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Judge comments and results from the final Design Challenge

The Great Designer Search Episode #6
“Game, Set, Match”, Part II

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The letter L!et’s get right to the action. Yesterday, I showed you the fifth Design Challenge as well as the submissions of the five remaining applicants. Today, it’s time for the judges to sound off. Once again, the judges are Aaron Forsythe (in red), Devin Low (in blue), Gleemax (in lovely plum) and myself (in green). After our comments, we’ll let you know which three applicants will be flying to Wizards of the Coast for final interviews.

Mark Globus

Ancestral Spirit (common)
2W
Creature - Spirit
2/2
Flying
Tilth 4 (You may cast this spell without paying its mana cost if you have at least 4 white cards in your graveyard.)

Bloodhound Mastiff (common)
2W
Creature - Hound
2/1
When attackers are declared, CARDNAME gets +0/+1 until end of turn for each attacking creature.
/* The dogs prowled the tunnels beneath Borgia, defending the settlement from goblin attacks. */

Borgian Javelineer (common)
W
Creature - Human Soldier
1/1
Flash
When CARDNAME comes into play, deal one damage to target attacking or blocking creature.

Guardian of Borgia (common)
3W
Creature - Human Soldier
2/4
If CARDNAME is untapped at the end of your turn, you may gain 1 life.
/* At last the refugees of Benalia found hope amidst the ruins of Urborg. */

Incantation of Release (common)
2W
Instant
Put target artifact or enchantment on the bottom of its owner's library.

Knight Protector (common)
3W
Creature - Human Knight
2/2
First Strike
Whenever CARDNAME deals damage, prevent that much damage to target creature or player.

Mantle of the Skyknight (common)
1W
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant Creature
When CARDNAME comes into play, draw a card, then discard a card.
Enchanted creature has flying and first strike.

Mired in the Past (common)
W
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant Creature
Enchanted creature is summoning sick.
/* Those who cannot let go of the past are doomed to repeat it. */

Poultice (common)
W
Instant
Prevent the next 3 damage to target creature or player.
Tilth 3 (You may cast this spell without paying its mana cost if you have at least 3 white cards in your graveyard.)

Rubble Rouser (common)
1W
Creature - Beast
2/2
When CARDNAME comes into play, draw a card, then discard a card.

Soul Purifier (common)
4W
Creature - Dwarf Cleric
3/3
1W: Return all Auras attached to target creature you control to their owner's hands.

Cinder Dragon (rare)
4RR
Creature - Dragon
5/5
Flying
Tilth 7 (You may cast this spell without paying its mana cost if you have at least 7 red cards in your graveyard.)
RR, Reveal CARDNAME from your hand: discard any number of red cards.

Part of design is recognizing strong ideas and expanding on them.
Thus far, the Merfolk Traders ability (draw and discard) has been used only sparingly. However, it can make an excellent block ability to smooth out draws, just as cycling or morph have done in the past.
For my submission, I have created the common white cards of the second set of the block following the repair of Dominaria's time line. This block investigates new beginnings and letting go past assumptions, and the Trader ability is a perfect fit. The first set focused on the exploration of this new world; this second set spotlights the rebuilding process, and using relics from the past to fashion a new culture. Tilth shows this in action, as it uses the past to create something new. Additionally, it interacts well with the Trader mechanic.

Aaron: Mark chose to highlight one new keyword, and that keyword is probably broken. When I read it, all I can think of is Myr Enforcer. “Yeah, it’s free,” we all pooh-poohed, “if you have seven artifacts in play. Who would ever have seven artifacts in play?” Someone would break tilth, and quickly, either just by building a deck with something like dredge that would allow the creatures to be played for free very early in the game, making a blazingly fast deck, or using cards that abused the freeness in other ways, like Recycle, Cloudstone Curio, or Primordial Sage. That might not sound scary, but that’s just what I came up with in a couple seconds; things would get worse once developers and/or players got their hands on it. The set feels like it would have an Odyssey vibe to it, meaning lots of intricate tiny decisions for hard-core gamers to make, but not enough overtly fun stuff. Not a great batch.

Devin: Globus was less ambitious than some of the other applicants here, pitching just one keyword, as well as a repeated workhorse mechanic in “Draw and discard.” The good side of that is that it gave him room for a lot of clean commons. Borgian Javelineer is a top-notch card that I would be happy to have in a set. “Disenchant to the bottom of your library” is a perfect card to make when graveyards matter and you don’t want to fill your opponent’s graveyard.

The downside of pitching just one keyword is that it puts a lot of pressure on that keyword to be awesome. Tilth flirts with “Play my whole hand for free,” which is very dangerous territory that has burned us in the past, so we are now hyper-sensitively careful about that. The problem is that when you start putting Tilth numbers on them that avoid them being broken, they become “fair” to people trying to abuse it, an unattractive to people who want to play them fairly by casting Glory Seeker-Merfolk Traders. Tilth would be better if you had to remove the cards from your graveyard instead of counting them. Then you could reduce the Tilth numbers to give you more hope of “an early Sengir” (Fun! Even when it happens a lot.) while reducing the likelihood of “three early Sengirs” (not fun when it happens a lot).

Finally, it concerns me that many cards here are “too clever,” relying on pretty intense rules knowledge to know what they do. Do most people think “Enchanted creature is summoning sick” means it can’t use abilities for another turn, or permanently? Which is right? Technically, I think the answer may actually be “Neither of those is right – The card as written has no effect on any creature.” Regardless of the actual result, the fact that there is so much confusion here, at common, is a reason that we would probably not do this without a lot of reminder text. On the whole, there were some great cards here, but the weaknesses of Tilth and the lack of anything else make this just medium. 5 out of 10.

Gleemax: The pieces are better than the whole. You made some great cards, but you didn’t make a great set.

Mark: Mark, at first glance, your cards seem like the simplest of the five submissions. That is, until one starts figuring out what the cards actually do. The fact that Bloodhound Mastiff’s template allows it to work on offense and defense or that Knight Protector works because of how first strike damage is dealt are things that would go over many players’ heads (also, “summoning sickness” is just a term for the fact that creatures can’t attack or block the turn they come into play, so granting it doesn’t really do what I think you wanted). The goal of design, and especially at common, is to create effects that are apparent to all the players. Barring this hidden complication, I do feel that you did the best job of making cards that felt like commons. Cards like Borgian Javelineer or Guardian of Borgia could go in a set tomorrow.

My biggest complaint is that your theme is a little loose. You seem to be building everything around the “Merfolk Trader” effect. While I appreciate mechanically what you are doing, it just doesn’t come across very strongly. It’s a little too subtle for players to easily see and there’s no good center to market the set around. In addition, I don’t think enough of your cards play into your theme. You have a lot of cool one-of’s that I wish were replaced with similar cards that were more relevant to the environment.

As for mechanics, I felt tilth was okay but not great. The fact that the graveyard resource is based on a conditional state (like threshold) rather than as an expendable one (meaning you have to remove cards from the graveyard to pay for the spell) makes it much more vulnerable to abuse. It also makes the mechanic more linear making you more likely to play many tilth cards together. I do think tilth is attractive and would excite players, but the designer in me would push the mechanic more in the direction of Noah Weil’s pyre mechanic (i.e., expendable rather than conditional). And this isn’t even going into the developmental concerns of the mechanic (let’s just say this card makes my spidey sense go off). As mechanics go, I would also have liked to see a second mechanic. Your set felt like it had space for one more piece.

Your prerelease card, Cinder Dragon, was definitely sexy and would excite players. It might cause a few conniptions among developers, but the card does show off the set.

In all, a good submission but not a great one. More solid (and more common) than most of the other submissions, but less inspired.

Graeme Hopkins

Please note: Because the assumed common land cycle is quite significant, all 12 "black" commons are included below. If only 11 are to be allowed, please exclude the last common, "Sulrathi Depths."

"Terralon" 180 card set

[Black common Creatures]

Sulrathi Pilgrim (common)
B
Creature - Human Scout
1/1
Whenever a Swamp comes into play under your control, each player loses 1 life.
/"Each step further from home carries us one step closer to our destination."/

Resentful Cutthroat (common)
1B
Creature - Human Rogue
2/1
Land Deficit -- 1B, T: Target player loses 1 life and you gain 1 life.
Play this ability only if that player controls more lands than you.

Borderlands Zealot (common)
2B
Creature - Human Cleric
2/2
2B, T, discard a Swamp: Return target creature card from your graveyard to your hand.
/"Lay down your burden. The Spirit of Sulrath shall carry it for you."/

Sulrathi Muckbather (common)
2B
Creature - Beast
3/3
When you control fewer than three Swamps, sacrifice Sulrathi Muckbather.
Swampcycling B

Spiteful Dead (common)
3B
Creature - Zombie Mercenary
3/1
When Spiteful Dead comes into play, target player discards a card.
Land Deficit -- If that player controls more lands than you, that player discards a card at random instead.

Ven's Chosen (common)
3BB
Creature - Spirit
4/2
Sacrifice a Swamp: Regenerate Ven's Chosen.
Dissipate -- While paying for this spell, you may return a Swamp you control to its owner's hand to reduce this spell's mana cost by B.

[Black common Noncreatures]

Dissolving Memories (common)
BB
Sorcery
Each player discards two cards.
Dissipate -- While paying for this spell, you may return a Swamp you control to its owner's hand to reduce this spell's mana cost by B.

Stench of Sulrath (common)
2B
Instant
Destroy target creature with power less than or equal to the number of swamps you control.
/Don't wade in for longer than you can hold your breath./

Bogdrinker's Gift (common)
1B
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant creature
Discard a Swamp: Enchanted creature gets +1/+1 until end of turn.

["Black" common Lands]

Suspicious Slough (common)
Land - Swamp
Suspicious Slough comes into play tapped and with one action counter on it.
2B, T, remove an action counter: Target creature gets +2/-1 until end of turn.

Nightmare Alley (common)
Land - Swamp
Nightmare Alley comes into play tapped.
B, T, return Nightmare Alley to its owner's hand: Target creature gains fear until end of turn.
/As nebulous as its mists, the Alley has a dirty habit of creeping up on you./

Sulrathi Depths (common)
Land - Swamp
Sulrathi Depths comes into play tapped.
When Sulrathi Depths comes into play, you may pay 1B. If you do, you draw a card and you lose 1 life.

[Green Rare Prerelease card]

Viran Earthcaller (rare)
4GG
Creature - Elemental
5/5
Trample
Whenever a Forest comes into play, put a +1/+1 counter on Viran Earthcaller.
2G: Search your library for a land card with a basic land type and put it into play. Then, shuffle your library.

The plane Terralon shattered long ago, isolating each realm (land type) in its own world. Isolation has strongly attuned each world's inhabitants with their lands, which have in turn evolved to reflect this focus of power. The isolation has recently been broken; the worlds have been united once again, if tenuously.

Sulrath is the Swamp world. It's ruled by Ven (turned-demon).

Lands are an often-overlooked "necessity" of Magic. I believe there's lots of fun to be had with lands. This is a look at how different colors could interact more with their lands.

I tried to execute the ideas in the best manner, rather than go out of my way for new wording; there's plenty of room within Magic's current bounds.

Major focus was to make the set play well both with itself and with other sets.

"Land Deficit" label made open-ended for future use (with things other than land).

Aaron: Every black common has the word “Swamp” or “land” on it – perhaps this submission is a bit overthemed. On top of that, I’m not sure that I like the theme all that much. All the cards seem to shout, “Play a mono-colored deck.” Assuming that’s the case, Limited play with this set would either be (a) frustrating, as you’ll rarely actually have a mono-colored deck, so most of your cards will be awkward and underpowered, or (b) repetitive, because there’s only about five unique decks that you’ll be aiming to build – the five mono-colored decks. The game naturally pushes players toward one-color play; I’m not sure it’s a good idea to necessitate it. On top of that, it is implied that there are to be fifteen common lands in a small set, all of which have basic types, come into play tapped, and have junky little abilities. There’s something very clean about having a row of basic Swamps in play, both from your own perspective and from the opponent’s. We all know what Swamps do and don’t have to stop to read them or consider them to be “active” in the game in any bizarre or complicated. Tossing a Shizo or a Vitu-Ghazi into the mix now and then is fine, but making a world in which every land is potentially a trick or a pseudo-spell or some other fidgety bit that will make me feel like an idiot for forgetting about it when I block or try to kill your guy or calculate who will win the race is not an area of design I feel Magic needs to dip into at this point.

Props for making something cohesive, slops from me for choosing a theme that I don’t think is particularly good.

Devin: Hopkins clearly overdesigned his submission this week, a term meaning that it concentrates excessively on hammering a single point again and again. The good news is that I think overdesigning is a good move from designers, since development teams are well equipped to take an overdesigned set, identify its favorite cards, kill its least favorite and replace them with simpler core set style cards. If designers pass off a file that is underdesigned, with not enough cards supporting the theme, then the developers are really up a creek, since they are not as well equipped to design more in-theme cards to make the theme louder. That said, this was pretty darn overdesigned. The other good news is that the theme of “Swamps matter, and all your guys love swamps and use swamps” was flavorful and evocative. There’s a lot of intricacy in the effects here, and I sincerely appreciate how Hopkins found half a dozen ways to let players fight over the second theme, land deficit, in bouncing swamps back to hand, saccing swamps, encouraging you to play your swamps out with “When a swamp comes into play” triggers, etc. I also liked dissipate, since you can make cards with it that look very attractive but are still fairly costed.

The bad news is that land deficit and all its tricky enablers do not seem like they would be fun to play. Player A plays a land deficit comes-into-play guy with one fewer land than her opponent, then player B sacs a land in response, then A bounces a land in response, then B sacs another land in response, so A bounces another, so B sacs another, then the CIP guy resolves and doesn’t get its land deficit ability, and both players have a bunch of lands in their graveyard or hand that they didn’t really want to put there. That part is a lot like Odyssey saying “Discard a bunch of cards to Krosan Archer to give it +0/+2 until end of turn, because that will turn on your Springing Tiger’s threshold!” Even when it was right to do that, and people did it, most didn’t enjoy discarding a bunch of cards to Krosan Archer very much. Or if the ability is very minor, like Spiteful Dead’s miniscule upgrade for land deficit, then nobody bothers to use the Land Deficit enablers (bouncing your own lands, etc.) at all, and then why go to the trouble of making them? It’s also really bad to have the main mechanic tell people “If you have 3 lands out, it’s often the right strategy not to play any more lands. And thus not to play any spells of cost 3+.” Encouraging people not to play their lands and not to play their spells is not fun Magic, and is a bad design choice.

The other bad news is that the design tells people “Play monocolor!” but it doesn’t give them any tools to do that. In Sealed you don’t get 23 black spells in your card pool. And as designed, there are almost no cards in the design that you’d be happy about splashing in your mostly monoblack sealed deck. You would want either to give people more ways to play monocolor in Limited, or give up on them playing monocolor and add some cards that they wouldn’t mind splashing in their mostly-black decks.

Overall, the swamps focus still seems fun and evocative to me, and I respect the overdesign, even if it chooses the wrong mechanic (Land Deficit) on which to spend its focus. I also thought a lot of the individual cards here were well-executed. I liked the submission significantly more than my fellow judges. 7 out of 10.

Gleemax: Frankly, I was disappointed. What I’ve liked about your designs has been you subtlety. which was completely lacking in this submission.

Mark: Graeme, let me start by saying I didn’t miss your theme. It came across loud and clear. You made the opposite mistake of Mark in that you didn’t have enough cards that were off-theme (or at least only subtly on-theme). I have mixed feelings about your submission. I’m not all that thrilled with what you came up, with but really like the thought process behind some of your decisions.

For example, I felt your theme was a little too on the nose, but I thought you were playing around in interesting space. Lands as a design resource have been underutilized and there is much design potential there. That said, I’m not sure if I like many of the places you chose to go. Let’s begin with land deficit. The first thing I thought of with this mechanic was the card Land Tax which basically has it. From a design standpoint, Land Tax was, in my mind, a failure. And no, I’m not talking about power level – that would be a development issue. My problem with Land Tax is that it led to nothing happening. The only way to fight land deficit is to not play land. This led to a lot of games where turn upon turn went by with neither player doing anything other than drawing a new card. This isn’t fun, and I’m worried that land deficit would play the same way. (I do, by the way, realize that you had a lot of other cards that helped you influence how many lands you had in play.)

Dissipate seemed odd as a keyword mechanic. I would just rather see cards that require bouncing swamps as an alternate cost rather than as an optional way to reduce costs. Yes, your way makes more flexible cards, but the cost is added complexity that doesn’t seem to justify itself. I do like several of the ways you thought to make use of swamps. In particular I really liked Sulrathi Pilgrim, Sulrathi Muckbather (although swampcycling B seems a bit much), and Stench of Sulrath. In addition, I liked playing around with making non-basic swamps.

Your prerelease card, Viran Earthcaller, was a good choice as a prerelease card, both in that I think it would excite players and it shows off your theme well.

In all, a subpar hit but an impressive swing.

Alexis Janson

Set "Chicken":
[from the "Winner Winner / Chicken / Dinner" block]

Vile Praetor (common)
3B
Creature - Human Cleric
2/2
Inspire (When this creature goes to a graveyard from play, you may attach it to target creature as an Aura. Enchanted creature has all other abilities of this card.)
T: Target creature gets -1/-1 until end of turn.

Cannibal Lector (common)
4B
Creature - Zombie Cleric
3/3
Inspire (When this creature goes to a graveyard from play, you may attach it to target creature as an Aura. Enchanted creature has all other abilities of this card.)
Sacrifice a creature: This creature gains fear until end of turn.

Consuming Power (common)
2B
Sorcery
Destroy target creature with one or more activated abilities.

Leyweave Parasite (common)
1B
Creature - Spirit
1/2
Whenever you play an activated ability of a black creature, you may pay 1B. If you do, target player loses 1 life.

Leyweave Shade (common)
B
Creature - Shade Shaman
1/1
Draw upon swamps (This comes into play with a charge counter for each swamp you control.)
B, Remove a charge counter from Leyweave Shade: Leyweave Shade gets +1/+1 until end of turn.

Diabolic Pawn (common)
2B
Creature - Human Spellmartyr
2/2
1B, Sacrifice Diabolic Pawn: Target player sacrifices a creature.

Confer with Death (common)
1B
Instant
Choose one — Regenerate target creature; or return target creature card from your graveyard to your hand; or remove target creature card in a graveyard from the game.
/"Those who deal with death find it quite charming."/

Distant Memory (common)
2B
Sorcery
Target player chooses two cards from his or her hand and puts them on the bottom of his or her library.

Tainted Flock (common)
3B
Creature - Bird Horror
2/2
Flying
When CARDNAME is put into a graveyard from play, each player loses two life.

Frail Fate (common)
B
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant creature
Whenever enchanted creature becomes the target of a spell or ability, destroy that creature.

Leyweave Outcast (common)
2B
Creature - Human Rogue
3/3
Leyweave Outcast gets -2/-2 for each Aura attached to it.

Patron of Gaea (rare)
4GG
Creature - Avatar
4/4
Inspire (When this creature goes to a graveyard from play, you may attach it to target creature as an Aura. Enchanted creature has all other abilities of this card.)
Trample
Whenever this creature deals combat damage to an opponent, put that many +1/+1 counters on target creature.

I started with flavor- the Leyweave, source of magical power permeating a world; providing magic to the uninitiated, making spells an easily shared resource (Inspire), providing growing power (Draw upon). Side effects?

Mutations, consumption, subversive control of others. (Pawns) Keywords inspired subthemes. I then searched for intersecting design space while balancing needs. A couple cards don't directly tie into specific themes- like every set, some cards are purposely simple tweaks to flesh things out. The "whole" was more important than making every card truly unique.

"Parasite" could be bumped to uncommon for complexity; I judged it safe. It could also be tested at 2/1. "Flock" was tweaked with multiplayer in mind. "Confer" subtly nods at Lord of the Undead's flavor text. I tried Inspire with "can't block", but decided commons should all treat Inspire as a benefit. Lots of work, but lots of fun- I'm happy with the result.

Aaron: Alexis was well on her way to getting a ticket out here for an interview, and this submission didn’t change anything. I like both of her keywords – inspire is something most players would enjoy (although our Rules Manager less so), and “draw upon” works for me because of how open-ended the parameter is (draw upon Clerics, draw upon cards in hand, etc.) Some of the cards felt particularly out of place – why does the set’s Mind Rot, for example, put the cards on the bottom of the deck? I could see it in Globus’s set, as you wouldn’t want to up their “tilth” count, but why here?

Okay stuff, but all Alexis needed was okay this week.

Devin: Good and bad from Janson this week. The two keywords were very good. The “activated ability” theme is bad. And the unthemed commons seemed very random.

Draw upon swamps was cool because it was open-ended and could apply to Elves and all kinds of other things. The draw upon Shade is a good execution of the idea, looking attractive but not unfair. Inspire is a great keyword. I would be happy to put it into a set. It’s flavorful, flexible, and new, has a lot of design space, and is easy to understand – at least it would be easy to understand if it was executed a little better. If the fear Inspire guy just had “Fear” and “Inspire” then when he became an aura he’d give the “inspired creature” fear. Nice and simple. But Janson instead gives it “Sacrifice a creature: This creature gains fear until end of turn.” and splicing activated abilities onto other things is needlessly more confusing. Still, that’s something that other designers or developers could easily fix, and the core idea there is good.

Why did the Inspire guys all grant activated abilities instead of static ones? Because the overall theme of the set was “activated abilities matter.” This is not a good idea. Too many on-board activated abilities mean that board states quickly become very complicated, with lots of known information that you have to compute to figure out whether or not you should attack, where to target your spells, etc. We call this phenomenon “chessiness,” and it is something that we avoid doing too much of. This design would have way too much of it.

The random cards like Distant Memory and Tainted Flock were pretty mediocre, and if there role was just to be “random unrelated cards,” I feel like Janson could have chosen better options. Leyweave Outcast has the germ of a good idea, in that it could make your opponent want to play his Rancors on it, or maybe in a pinch against tons of these things, hilariously side in Flights or Fishliver Oils to deal with it. The mistake is that the card doesn’t quite achieve that, in that if you cast Flight on it, they get a 1/1 flier, and if you cast Rancor on it, they get a 3/1 trampler. It would be a way better design if it said “When this creature is enchanted, sacrifice it.” Overall this was pretty good work, though weaker than Janson’s previous work. 6 out of 10.

Gleemax: For some reason in this competition, the frontrunner keeps slipping to keep things interesting. This week was your turn.

Mark: Alexis, I like a lot of what you did, but overall your submission seems a little off. Your description connects the cards in a way that the cards didn’t communicate by themselves. This isn’t to say there weren’t any gems in your submission – I like Leyweave Parasite, Frail Fate and Leyweave Outcast quite a bit – but overall the set didn’t hang well for me.

I thought inspire was an interesting mechanic, but I felt your commons weren’t the simplest expression of the mechanic. How about some creatures with just a single, simple keyword (like say flying or fear). Activated abilities seem like a fine addition for uncommon or rare, but I’d like to see common be the easiest to grok. And note that a flier that grants flying to another creature is plenty interesting. Draw upon swamps doesn’t pass the bar in my opinion for being worthy of a keyword. Also, I don’t think I’d do this mechanic at common as it also doesn’t pass the “make the players use counters at common” bar either. I would have liked to see another keyword mechanic.

My other issue is that your set didn’t seem to hold together as tightly as I would have liked. My guess is this is a result of you addressing my comments from last week where I told you to be more holistic. I think you swung too far, though, and didn’t have enough mechanical connection. You need to find a better balance between the cool mechanical interactions and the necessary flavor interaction. Cards have to feel right but also have to play well with others.

I felt your prerelease card was good but not great. I would have liked it if it was bigger (even if this forces you to make it more expensive). It did do a good job of showing off your major mechanic.

In all, one of your weakest submissions. Luckily, your quality has been one of the highest, so weak for you is still pretty good.

Kenneth Nagle

Rikt Initiate (Common)
G
Creature - Insect Druid
Reveal a land card from your hand, Tap: Add one mana of any color the revealed land could produce to your mana pool.
1/1

Lonely Treefolk (Common)
G
Creature - Treefolk Druid
Instead of playing a land, you may play Lonely Treefolk from your hand without paying its mana cost. (This counts as playing a land for the turn.)
Instead of playing a land, you may put a +1/+1 counter on Lonely Treefolk.
1/1

Rikt Vitalizing Charmer (Common)
1G
Creature - Insect Druid Spellshaper
G, Tap, Discard a card: Target creature gets +1/+1 and gains trample until end of turn. If a land card was discarded to play this ability, you may put a 1/1 green Insect creature token into play.
2/2

Acrid Net-Weaver (Common)
2G
Creature - Spider
Acrid Net-Weaver can block as though it had flying.
Reveal X land cards from your hand, Tap, Sacrifice Acrid Net-Weaver: Destroy target creature with both flying and converted mana cost X.
1/3

Branch-Fastened Chameleon (Common)
2G
Creature - Lizard
Forestwalk
Evolve R - red Lizard (When Branch-Fastened Chameleon is put into a graveyard from play, you may pay R. If you do, search your library for a red Lizard card, reveal it, put it into your hand, then shuffle your library.)
2/2

Stink Beetle (Common)
3G
Creature - Insect
When Stink Beetle is put into a graveyard from play, you may remove it from the game and put a decompose counter on it.
Remove a decompose counter from Stink Beetle: Add BG to your mana pool. Put Stink Beetle into your graveyard.
3/3

Devolving Aberration (Common)
4G
Creature - Mutant
Protection from instants
Evolve 3G - converted mana cost 4 or less (When Devolving Aberration is put into a graveyard from play, you may pay 3G. If you do, search your library for a creature card with converted mana cost 4 or less, reveal it, put it into your hand, then shuffle your library.)
4/3

Scavenging Wurm (Common)
5GG
Creature - Wurm
Holistic 2G (2G, Remove Scavenging Wurm in your hand from the game: Return target creature card from your graveyard to your hand.)
6/6

Enliven (Common)
2G
Instant
If you control a Forest, you may remove a land card in your hand from the game instead of paying Enliven's mana cost.
Target creature gets +4/+4 until end of turn.

Enchantress's Touch (Common)
2G
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant creature
Enchanted creature gets +1/+1 for each enchantment you control.
Auratide - white (Whenever you play a white Aura card, you may return Enchantress's Touch from your graveyard to play.)

Future, Present, Past (Common)
2G
Sorcery
Search your library for a basic land card, put it into your hand, then shuffle your library. You may play an additional land this turn.
Holistic 2G (2G, Remove Future, Present, Past in your hand from the game: Return target sorcery card from your graveyard to your hand.)

Kindled Sapling (Common - TEMPLATE)
Land
Kindled Sapling comes into play tapped.
Tap: Add R to your mana pool.
Sacrifice Kindled Sapling: Add G to your mana pool.

Kalachian Tempest (Rare - Prerelease Promo)
5RG
Creature – Elemental
If you control a Mountain and a Forest, you may remove a sorcery card and a land card in your hand from the game instead of paying Kalachian Tempest's mana cost.
Trample
Kalachian Tempest gets +1/+0 for every mana in a mana pool.
6/4
/Kalach's chaotic weather is its deadliest foe./

Designer's Notes:

Kalach's Midst (Set 2 of 3) - A new primoridal plane/planet, rapidly changing and short in life-expectancy. Magic is still being discovered here. Pre-humanoid civilizations emerging. Artifacts barely invented.

Theme
'Card Type' Wars

White - Enchantment
Blue - Instant
Black - Creature
Red - Sorcery, 'weather', mana burn (manasinks deliberately scarce)
Green - Land, Animalistic, Dinosaurs?

Featured Keywords:

Evolve [cost] - [properties] (must share a card type)
(alternatively: Reshape, Reform, Rebirth) -can appear on any permanent

Holistic [cost] (must share a card type) -appears on all card types -RFG clause for safety

Auratide - [property]
-can appear on any permanent

Alternate Play Costs
-requires basic land control
-RFG clause for safety
-Lonely Treefolk plays polar opposite to Zombie Cutthroat!

Complicated Ally/enemy color bleed scheme separated per mechanic and card type -Small bleed - Stink Beetle (black) -Moderate bleed - Enchantress's Touch (white), Chameleons (all, evolution goes G->R->B->U->W) -Strong bleed - Kalachian Tempest

Gameplay Concerns
-'Free'-ish plays rather plentiful
-Hybrid card types may be confusing mechanically

Playtested with Time Spiral G/R and G/B Sealed decks, which I humbly encourage.

Aaron: I can’t shake the feeling, when reading Kenneth’s cards, that he’s designing for himself and his peers. A lot of his stuff really plays up subtle resource management, ways for otherwise mundane tiny decisions to impact the outcome of the game hugely, stuff that college graduate lifelong gamers would enjoy one-upping each other with. Each card brings with it ten ways to make mistakes while playing. I agree that the game needs some of that. There have to be ways for the better player to outplay the worse one. But we must be careful. All people, even less savvy and younger players, have to enjoy the game, and straightforwardness is a good way to ensure that most of them have a good time. I’m pretty sure the ultra-cleverness can be beaten out of Kenneth, at which point he’ll be a fine designer.

What Kenneth’s set is missing is something that really rewards me for not playing lands every turn – something even young Timmy could get excited about. Even something as simple as an Empyrial Armor or Maro variant would have worked.

Devin: Nagle is a smart guy, and shows that he knows how cards fit together with each other and interact interestingly. This week’s submission from Nagle is very busy, and I have enjoyed previous Nagle submissions more than this week’s. Again, I don’t mind designers handing a higher number of complex commons than we would actually print, so that developers can cut the ones they don’t like and replace them with some needed creeping mold variants. A bigger problem here, however, is that each card was also very busy. If you look at Rikt Vitalizing Charmer, there are so many moving parts for a common. This Charmer has 1) Pay Green Mana, 2) Tap it, 3) Discard a card, 4) Target creature gets +1/+1, 5) It also gains trample (why?), 6) If you discarded a land (the card could make the discard a land bonus granting +2/+2 instead, but instead the card gives a totally different ability), 7) Make an insect token (Adding make a token as a sometimes-kicker on a giant growth ability means that when the giant growth fizzles, the insect token doesn’t come into play even though a land was discarded, which is confusing. Compare to Deepwood Drummer, who has only 4 moving parts out of the 7 above, and was still plenty complicated, plenty interesting, and plenty chessy board-complicating.

On the mechanics, holistic just read like “Channel a Raise Dead” in green to me, though I know he is trying for a “Swap this creature for that one” feel. Evolve would be too much tutoring for bombs at common. Royal Assassin is more fun when he comes up 1 in 3 games than when it comes up every single game. Basically, transmute said “Discard this card to get one in a subset from your library,” and soulshift said “When this creature dies, raise dead a creature of cost X or less.” Evolve and Holistic literally just swap these abilities’ second halves, saying “When this creature dies, get one in a subset from your library.” and “Discard this card to raise dead a creature.” I could imagine that kind of swap being impressive, but these did not seem interesting enough to overcome their flaws.

Another strong theme here were “Hold lands in your hand.” Holding 4 lands in my hand and sacrificing my Spider to kill a Volcano Imp does not seem like it would be fun, because holding all those lands also means I have to hold spells. Overall, I liked Nagle’s previous submissions way more than this one. 3 out of 10.

Gleemax: The twelve cards were supposed to hint at the set, not be the entire set.

Mark: Kenneth, I felt like I came to your submission looking for a filling snack and instead got a full course meal. Your submission was teaming with neat ideas. The problem was that you crammed them in every nook and cranny. For instance, let’s talk mechanics. For keywords, you have evolve, holistic, and auratide. In addition, you have revealing as cost, decompose counters, alt-cost land pitching, and mana-in-pool counting. Whew! It’s just too much.

As a quick rundown, by the way, here’s my two cents on the mechanics. Evolve is cool but you needed to start with simpler restrictions for common. Holistic was also cool (based off one of my favorite cards by the way – Holistic Wisdom) but it needed to be worded in a way that made the different versions seem more connected (I would have had the reminder text look for a card that shared a type with this card.) Auratide seemed like the one keyword mechanic that didn’t need the keyword, partly because it was narrow and partly because it just isn’t that sexy (and could easily be explained on the card). I liked revealing as a cost quite a bit. Decompose counters seemed like they had some potential, although they wanted to be done in larger numbers. Counting mana in the mana pool has been done before, but there’s definitely room to explore. So yes, I liked most of them. Nonetheless, there were too many. You had to pick and choose better.

The biggest cost in overreaching with your mechanics is that it was hard to get a clear identity of your set. It wasn’t about one thing as much as everything. I do actually think many of the cards will play well together, but I feel your set would be a bit muddled when you try to market it. I also felt your prerelease card was a little too complicated for its intended audience.

In all, I was impressed by your ability to design cards and mechanics but less impressed in your ability to design a cohesive set.

Ryan Sutherland

Brute Strength (Common)
1G
Instant
Choose one – Target creature gains +1/+1 and trample until end of turn, or target creature with trample gains +4/+4 until end of turn.

Elder Ritespeaker (Common)
1G
Creature – Bear Druid
2/2
Whenever Elder Ritespeaker is put into a graveyard from play, any player may pay 2. Any player who does may draw a card.

Fruits of Kol (Common)
G
Sorcery
You gain 4 life. Then any other player who pays 1W gains 4 life.

Ironweb Spiderling (Common)
1G
Creature – Spider
0/2
Ironweb Spiderling can block as though it had flying.
Focus – Put a +1/+1 counter on Ironweb Spiderling (When Ironweb Spiderling comes into play, put a +1/+1 counter on it for each other permanent in play with Focus or sacrifice Ironweb Spiderling.)

Kaidok Brawler (Common)
G
Creature – Bear Berserker
2/2
Focus - 1 (When Kaidok Brawler comes into play, pay 1 for each other permanent in play with Focus or sacrifice Kaidok Brawler.)

Kol Tiller (Common)
5GG
Creature – Wurm
4/5
Manapact (You may use mana in one of your allies’ mana pools as though it was in your mana pool to pay for Kol Tiller.)
As long as Kol Tiller has trample, it gains +2/+2.

Pilgrims of Kol (Common)
G
Creature – Human Druid
1/1
T: Add 1 to your mana pool.
1, T: Target player gains control of Pilgrim of Kol.

Raging Swine (Common)
2G
Creature – Beast
2/3
Trample
Whenever Raging Swine attacks, any other player may pay R. For each player that does, Raging Swine gets +2/+0 until end of turn.

Tend the Grove (Common)
1G
Sorcery
For each permanent with Focus in play, search your library for a basic land, reveal it and put it into your hand. Then shuffle your library.
Then you may put a land from your hand into play tapped.

Timberline Force (Common)
4G
Creature – Elemental
5/5
Trample
Focus – G (As an additional cost to playing Timberline Force, pay G for each other permanent in play with Focus or sacrifice Timberline Force.)

Ursine Denmother (Common)
2GG
Creature – Bear Druid
2/2
Whenever Ursine Denmother comes into play, all players who control the highest number of creatures may put a 2/2 green Bear creature token into play.

Prerelease Card:

Baron of the Citadel (Rare)
3BBB
Creature – Human Lord
6/3
1B: Regenerate Baron of the Citadel.
All opponents play with their hands revealed.
At the beginning of each opponent’s upkeep, name a card. At end of turn, that player discards all copies of the chosen card.

The central theme of my set is multiplayer, inspired by the advent of two-headed giant drafting. However, in order for the set to be successful, I knew it must be playable in all formats. Along with studying structures of small sets, I adapted Anthony Alongi’s multiplayer “animal” philosophies and applied this animal pie to the color pie to give green has a very plankton feel, while black obviously enjoys feeding off of others, etc. I also wanted to reward teammates who played colors that were allies in the pie.

I chose Focus as my main new ability, because I feel that it allows for some interesting choices due to the fact that it can be used as a determent to spells by requiring additional mana or as a boon through increasing a spells’ effect. Manapact is my secondary ability that would be sparser but pushes forward the multiplayer theme.

Aaron: I wish we were in a world where Ryan set made sense, I really do. Some of his cards looked like absolute blasts if the “default” way to play Magic was in groups of four or more. But too many of the cards make little to no sense in their “natural habitat” of one-on-one play. A green creature that I can’t pump, but “any other player” can? That card would never see the light of day in a duel. Why not allow anyone to pump it?

Focus is just a mess. It ironically lacks focus, as some of the cards are linear and parasitic, and others tell you to stay as far away from other focus cards as possible. Incredibly hard to summarize quickly as a mechanic, which is a definite knock. Ryan has been taking some big risks here in the latter half of the contest, which may hurt him in the end. He was doing so well “playing by the book” initially that I’m confused as to why he felt the need to deviate from the norm so much.

Devin: Just like during the Unhinged rares week, Sutherland made a risky, single big decision this week that really messed up his submission. On the Unhinged rares, he chose to make an online-only set, which is something I don’t think we would do in a long time, and then compounded it with sub-awesome execution. This week, he chose to make a multiplayer-leaning set, which is something I don’t think we would do in a long time, then compounded it with sub-awesome execution. Magic multiplayer is popular and I like it, but we need to make Magic sets that appeal to a large percentage of Magic players, an a multiplayer-only set doesn’t do that. Sutherland says that he made his cards to appeal for both one-on-one and multiplayer play, but he misses at this. When players who only play one-on-one open up “Boreal Druid that can tap to give control of it to another player” or “Your allies help you pay for this mana cost,” those cards just scream out “This set is not for you, one-on-one player! Stop buying it!” Cards like Denmother are way better at saying “This is interesting in multiplayer but also plays well in one on one,” and it isn’t so totally blatant about its multiplayer-ness. Brute Strength was the best card here by far. It’s nice and simple, yet provides a nice simple combo with other cards and with itself, and one that would be really fun to play. Focus was also a mess, a mechanic both positive and negative. Legends aside, I hate cards that say “This card (or mechanic) is at its best when you have only one of this card in your deck (not two or more) or only one of this mechanic in your deck.” TGDS candidates constantly submitted these, and they are not good. We do not do them. This was a disappointing week from Sutherland, after a couple of other disappointing weeks. 3 out of 10.

Gleemax: Swing and a miss. You spent your energy showing how you could do things we don’t do rather than things we do do.

Mark: Ryan, you took a big risk, and while I admire that it just didn’t work for me. Here’s the major problem – the changes you made to make this set multiplayer-friendly I felt really hurt it in two-player play. As an example, in two-player Fruits of Kol is just a card that allows your opponent access to free stuff at your expense. As I explained when I was critiquing the revenge mechanic (the one where your opponent could play out of your graveyard), players have proven not to like cards that just give stuff to the opponent. They want their cards to benefit them more than the other player.

Other cards, like Pilgrims of Kol, read very oddly if you don’t understand the multiplayer theme. A player who only plays two-player is going to look at that card and say to themselves, “I don’t get it. Why would you ever use this ability?”

I also had some real issues with your focus mechanic. For starters, it’s too confusing. Yes, I see how it connects, but that connection is more tenuous than you might realize. A player seeing just one copy of a focus card is not going to get the larger mechanic (and this is how most people are introduced to mechanics, through one card).

What I did like was that you made cards that had interesting mechanics for multiplayer play. While manapact would just cause confusion in two-player game, it creates some interesting moments in multiplayer play (although I don’t think I’d like to see enough of them that would warrant a keyword).

Your prerelease card was okay but not great. The card was a little more Spike-y than we usually make prerelease cards.

In all, I felt like you tried reaching for this assignment but you reached in an area that we would not. Cards for normal expansions have to work well for two-player play, and the path you went down did not accomplish this. Perhaps one day we’ll make a set just for multiplayer play, but that was not this assignment. We were testing if you could make a normal small expansion (testing crucial skills for a design intern), and instead you demonstrated how far off the beaten path you could go.

And The Number Shall Be Three

So, who’s coming to lovely Renton? Let’s take a look.

Alexis Janson

Ryan Sutherland

Graeme Hopkins

Mark Globus

Kenneth Nagle

Destination Renton

Now that we have our Final Three, it’s time for interviews. Here’s how it’s going to work. On Monday, December 18th, we will be flying the three remaining applicants to Renton to interview at Wizards of the Coast. They will have a chance to meet most of R&D, get a tour, and, you know, be put through the wringer.

Remember that from this point forward, the applicants will be showing off a completely different set of skills. They’ve proven they can design. Now they have to show that they can fit in with R&D. Do they have what it takes? Tune in two weeks from today for the final episode of The Great Designer Search, when we’ll tell how the interviews went and announce the winner.

See you in two weeks.

Mark Rosewater

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