The Great Designer Search 2 Finalists

Posted in Feature on November 24, 2010

By Staff

Jay Treat

Escape to Muraganda

Empirian fugitives fight for survival with the primitive tribes of predator-infested Muraganda

MR: As I've said to others, you don't need the name of your world in your logline. It's in the title of the set. My problem with the word "Empirian" is that it looks like a big word that the reader just doesn't know rather than the name of the people. You've communicated conflict but it seems a little vague. I love the sense that neither of these people want this conflict but are instead kind of forced into it. It would be nice if your logline could hint at one of the coolest aspects of the world.

Nateen Savage (CR01)
[NMEL's Nateen Bravo -
Creature-Cat Barbarian
Whenever CARDNAME attacks, commune. If you succeed, CARDNAME gets +1/+1 until end of turn.
(To commune, reveal a card from your hand or the top of your library. You succeed if it shares a creature type with CARDNAME.)
{Cat Petroglyph Watermark}

KEN: We made a card like this in Flamekin Bladewhirl. It was one-and-done. Not happy with all the action words players are inventing for things that could just be written out. This card makes me show you the same card all game.

MT: Commune strikes me as more of an ability word, similar to kinship. In fact, this could arguably just be kinship. The overall effect isn't worth the new vocabulary terms.

MR: All of you applicants seem very excited about keyword actions. I guess everyone loves playing with a new toy. You start by making a kinship variant. As I listed kinship in my essay column as one of the lesser mechanics in Extended, it's safe to say I wasn't thrilled with commune. You added the hand as a means to increase the ability to control hitting, but that also ensures that development will have to cost it basically assuming you can always hit, which means that the effects are going to be severely weakened.

The other thing that I haven't figured out, although I learned is important, is what separates the one-creature type creatures from the two- or more-creature type creatures. My first guess was that there were the two different sides in the conflict but seeing "cat" next to "cat barbarian" just confused me.

Curious Thrash (CR02)
[NMEL's Recon Goblin -
Creature-Goblin Scout Rebel
Whenever CARDNAME attacks, look at the top card of target player's library.

KEN: This is a fun little guy. "I know a secret and you don't. For a little while, at least."

MR: I see what you're trying to do here. You have hidden information that matters and you're trying to give the player some ability to get to it. I like putting it on an attack trigger so that it's not easy to access but still doable, but I'm not sure a 1/1 creature is the best choice. You get to look early when it doesn't matter much and once later in the game.

Be aware that this card is fair as you don't get much extra on a 1/1 for . The issue is more of perception than power level. This card is likely to annoy players.

Nateen Warrior – (CR03)
[NMEL's Nateen Prowler -
Creature - Cat Warrior
{Cat Petroglyph Watermark}

KEN: feel like Watermarks are being overused. We used them twice ever—in Ravnica when we thought the "City of Guilds" tagline (which was added to the title of the set) would not be loud enough. We did it again in Scars of Mirrodin when we thought the Mirran vs. Phyrexian war would not be loud enough on individual cards. Those meetings were hours long and filled with debate. Shards of Alara don't have shard watermarks, and all other sets don't. I doubt watermarks in this set would pass such rigorous screening.

MR: It tickles me to no end how many vanilla creatures were "designed" by other people. This is a fine card for your set, but in the future I'd like the candidates to actually find cards from other players that they couldn't just make with two seconds thought.

Raknak Lookout (CR04)
Creature-Lizard Scout
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, Lizard creatures you and your allies control get +1/+0 and gain first strike until end of turn.
{Lizard Petroglyph Watermark}

KEN: I think "allies" means "teammates" here because "allies" is a creature type. I'm the multiplayer consultant in The Pit, and I'd say putting "teammates" here would cause 999 frowns on a missed bonus more often than the one smile when two teammates that both control Lizards can attack. Bizarre that the 1-drop red guy isn't a Lizard to combo with this guy on turn two.

MT: I'm fairly sure "your allies" refers to your teammates and not creatures like Ondu Cleric, but this is why we don't use this phrase. Go with "teammates," like Imperial Mask.

MR: I wish I understood how your cards were getting divided. The watermarks tell me that there are divisions based on creature type but other elements of your set tells me there is divisions between one creature type and two or more creature types. Be aware that your design has to all give messages on the same page. When you give conflicting messages, the audience just throws their hands up and goes, "I don't get it."

Next let's talk a minute about "allies." I'm not sure if you're trying to suggest that this set is going to have a multiplayer theme or that you just feel all of Magic should be more multiplayer friendly. I don't see any other signs of the first so I'll assume it's the second.

This is not just a note to you, Jay, but to all of the designers. The GDS2 is not the best place to try and change the status quo. I like that applicants are trying to show that they have ideas on how to change things (something we definitely do want in our intern), but I worry that these kinds of things pull focus on your design. For example, when I saw "allies" it stopped me in my tracks because I'm now trying to figure out what you're up to. Does it matter? Is it some new element that I'm supposed to be paying attention to? So instead of focusing on your card I'm focusing on something extraneous to the design. I do like the sentiment but I worry you are undercutting your own cause. Once you have the job you will have plenty of time to try and explain why the word "allies" should become something evergreen in Magic.

Now let's get to the actual card. My first issue is that you have an ETB (enter the battlefield) effect that wants to affect a whole bunch of creatures, but you put it on a cheap creature. This means a lot of the time you drop this on turn two and nothing happens. Remember that the ETB effect needs to be relevant at the time you're going to play the card. I don't mind the effect if you put it on something that's going to come out a little later.

Your set has morphed into a tribal set. While I understand your interest in making mechanical divisions, my worry is that tribal doesn't say "two sides" it says "many sides." I feel like I've totally lost your outsiders vs. natives conflict. Unless the outsiders are cats and the natives are lizards, I don't get it. Ironically, you were the one design where hybrid actually made mechanical sense and then you abandon it for a mechanical definition that is much, much fuzzier.

Mokomoko (CR05)
[Viashino Grappler -]
G: CARDNAME gains trample until end of turn.
{Lizard Petroglyph Watermark}

KEN: A multicolor-link. This tells me Lizards are red-green. I expected as much from Muraganda, nice!

MR: This off-color activation feels like it's out of nowhere. Is there supposed to be some cross-color synergy here? If so, one activation on one card isn't going to communicate this loudly enough. Also, red now gets trample at common (it didn't back when Invasion was printed) so forcing you to go to green to get trample feels pretty pointless.

Which brings us to the point that this is your repeat. I get that you have viashino but what exactly does bringing this card back do for your set? The point of a repeat is that it either meshes in perfectly or that it allows you to reexamine an old card in a new light. Not only is the card outdated thanks to color pie shifting, but it just doesn't have any "oomph" in your set to make it worth repeating.

Thrash Rally Chief (CR06)
Creature-Goblin Berserker Rebel
Resourceful—When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, choose one — Creatures you and your allies control with two or more creatures types gain haste until end of turn; or put a +1/+1 counter on CARDNAME.

KEN: This completely bizarre "two-or-more-creature-types-matters" isn't something I'd ever put on a common.

MT: We haven't done (and likely won't do) cards that care about the number of creature types something has, largely because of the Grand Creature Type Update. Many cards out there have creature types that don't necessarily show up on the card. Did you know that Rorix Bladewing only has one creature type? Did you know Brine Shaman has three? Maybe not, if all you have is the printed card to go by.

MR: I have a couple issues with this card. First, granting haste as an ETB effect is best done on a cheaper creature. Yes, it grants it to itself but it isn't very big (if you choose the haste option), and thus you are unexcited unless you had other creatures to also grant haste. Except at three mana (two of which are red), odds are you can't play another creature especially one that you're excited to give haste to. Second, the haste granting is already pretty restrictive, you have to narrow it down even more? When playing with this card I just had to think of it as a 3/2 as that was the only option that ever made any sense (even against Scott Van Essen's deck which beat you up for using +1/+1 counters, so that's saying something).

The other meta-issue of "two or more creature types" as a restriction: I think you were looking for a mechanical way to separate your two factions (I do get you were trying to reinforce this with watermarks) and the native animals having no class type seemed like a clever workaround, but it's just too subtle. Also, making players care about the number of subtypes when that information is often incorrect on older cards seems plagued with problems.

Chirokai Champion (CR07)
[Cardkeeper's Chirokai Champion -
Creature-Beast Warrior
{Beast Petroglyph Watermark}

KEN: We've got Bladetusk Boar. We say internally that doing more intimidate in every color is important, so I like this here.

MR: I am a big fan of intimidate in red—so thumbs up for this card. I also enjoy that you saw the need for simple cards. Some of your fellow designers didn't quite understand that common isn't about cards with five plus lines of text.

Distracting Thrash – (CR08)
[Braman's Thrash Intimidator -
Creature - Goblin Rogue Rebel
Resourceful—When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, choose one — Creatures with fewer than two creature types can't block this turn or put two +1/+1 counters on CARDNAME.

KEN: I certainly wouldn't do the two creature types thing twice at red common! You can't even deck build with this, it's dependent on your opponent's creature types. This card says to me, "Which do you want—a 1/1 with nothing or a 3/3?"

MR: One of the most important things about designing a card with a choice is that you make that choice interesting. The problem with this card is when am I not going to opt to make this a 3/3? The only time I can come up with is when by attacking I can win and my opponent has enough single-subtyped creatures that this effect helps me. (And note that in modern Magic this is a small percentage of the time.)

Also, caring about the number of creature subtypes feels forced again. On top of that, sometimes it's "two or more" and sometime it's "two or less" so it's easy to misread what the card does.

Pouncing Kiri (CR09)
First Strike
{Cat Petroglyph Watermark}

KEN: I got the two common red morphs mixed up. Maybe they shouldn't both be with 3-power.

MR: I'm happy that you chose to make your common morph as simple as possible. Other designers could learn from this. (Hint, hint.) My bigger question is what is morph doing in your set? I don't thematically understand why it matters. Also, when we bring back a mechanic we try to put it in a different environment than you've seen it before. Putting morph in a tribal set is very déjà vu.

Canyon Bloodhowler – (CR10)
Creature - Beast
Morph 4R
When CARDNAME is turned face-up, Beast creatures you control gain Trample until end of turn.
{Beast Petroglyph Watermark}

KEN: This face up trigger is hard to get to do any work. You need a blocked creature with greater power than the defender's toughness. Then, it must be a Beast. That is a paltry bonus for altering your draft picks towards picking Beasts.

If both red common morphs can turn face up to defeat 3/3s in combat, there's barely ever incentive to block a morph with a 3/3 or smaller. That means this trample ability will kick in ever fewer times. If you don't remember the Battering Craghorn / Skirk Commando dilemma from Onslaught, it's there to create drama with "should've" / "shouldn't have blocked that morph" moment. You should block the morph if you think it is Skirk Commando and not the Battering Craghorn.

MT: Some bonuses in your set affect your teammates, some don't. Be consistent, although we probably don't want to read "teammates" on too many cards.

MR: I feel like you've opted to use tribal, yet you seem to barely make it matter. Yes, once again this affects itself but I never had it matter in play. (I'm guessing green is where most of the Beasts reside.) Also, I thought that one side is the primal natives. Is that the Beasts? I'm confused.

Tactical Strike (CR11)
Target creature you control deals 2 damage to target creature or player. If the creature you control has two or more creature types, it deals 4 damage to that creature or player instead.

KEN: You could probably make just the first clause here. Let the combos with lifelink/deathtouch be tricky upside here.

MR: You've earned the "Deal 2, conditionally deal 4" designer badge. I'm still not warming up to the "number of creature subtypes matters" theme. Also, is there a reason to have the creature deal the damage rather than the card? I guess you're going for the flavor but mechanically it takes a pretty simple card and adds a bunch of baggage.

Primal Mind (CR12)
Tribal Enchantment-Beast
Enchant creature
Enchanted creature is a Beast. It must attack each turn if able and it loses all activated abilities.
{Beast Petroglyph Watermark}

KEN: I guess this works as a bizarre Bloodshed Fever. I don't like losing activated abilities as a common card, despite Containment Spell and Gelid Shackles at common.

MT: Is it a Beast in addition to its other types? With so many other cards that care about the number of creature types something has, this card is likely to be confusing. Losing activated abilities is really complicated, especially if it picks up a new activated ability (such as with CR14). You probably want to go with an Arrest-style alternative.

MR: This card played much better than I thought it would when I first read it. (This is why playtesting is so important to design. Reading a card can only get you so far.) I also really like the flavor. R&D is currently really down on the tribal card type (I know, I know it feels like a supertype—I agree) so I doubt we'd print this card with tribal. Finally, since number of creature subtypes matter, I think you want this card to overwrite the previous creature types so it's just a (wild) Beast. Also, I agree with Matt that this wants to prevent the activating of abilities.

Fencer's Lunge (CR13)
[NMEL's Advanced tactics -
Target creature gets +2/+0 until end of turn.
If it has two or more creature types, it also gains first strike until end of turn.

KEN: Counting numbers of creature types on commons is pretty far away from anything we'd ever print. Here's a card I cast all the time:

Llanowar Elves
Llanowar Elves

I have to know the Oracle text of all creatures to know how this common works. Using number of creature types on cards to dichotomize factions will never work out when millions of games are played.

MR: Some of the designers forgot to include simple instant combat tricks so I'm glad you didn't forget. While I like this card, it still doesn't sell me on the creature sub-type limitation. It just fails on the "it feels right" meter that is hard to explain in words.

Ancestral Spirit of the Raknak (CR14)
Tribal Instant-Lizard
Until end of turn, target creature gains "R: This creature gets +1/+0 until end of turn."
Commune. If you succeed, add RRR to your mana pool.
(To commune, reveal a card from your hand or the top of your library. You succeed if it shares a creature type with CARDNAME.)
{Lizard Petroglyph Watermark}

KEN: Okay, it's kind of a Pyretic Ritual that needs a creature target, but needs a Lizard to work. Also, it is a Lizard. Then, you can cleverly spend your on Firebreathing for kind of a Slaughter Cry.

I'd rather have any of the cards I mentioned above than this card that's three layers of clever. Cards should make players feel clever, not make designers feel clever.

MR: For starters, I'm not a giant fan of this effect. I prefer firebreathing Auras to firebreathing instants. My inner designer does enjoy the cleverness of the overlap of effects, but I share Ken's concern that you're being clever for the sake of being clever. My other worry, though, is that this gets used more as a to add spell than as an instant that grants firebreathing to a creature. Finally, I'm still dubious about commune as a mechanic.

The Tale of the Lazy Cat (CR15)
Tribal Enchantment-Cat
Enchant creature
Enchanted creature gets +1/+1 and has first strike.
Cat Lore (Whenever a Cat creature enters the battlefield, you may cast CARDNAME from your graveyard targeting it.)
{Cat Petroglyph Watermark}

KEN: This is my favorite card in this batch. Kind of lame I get my Cat double first strike for no upside, but forgivable. I wish it was named "The TAIL of the Lazy Cat" though.

MT: Forcing a spell to target a certain object is considerably lengthier than you think. It would need some Flagbearer-like language that would feel pretty hacky. You're probably better off just asking for a mana payment and returning the Aura to the battlefield if you pay.

MR: Now we get to a mechanic that has some potential. It feels like something that benefits from a tribal use. This doesn't feel like a keyword mechanic to me though but rather a cycle, most likely at uncommon to make sure it shows up in Limited but lessens the amount of "active cards in graveyards you have to monitor" issue.

Terrifying Roar (CR16)
Tribal Sorcery-Cat
Target creature gains Intimidate until end of turn.
Cat Creatures you control get +1/+0 until end of turn.
{Cat Petroglyph Watermark}

KEN: Bizarre to give a targeted bonus, but then a global tribal bonus. Tribal bonuses are fine and merited though. Another designer did this card in the other order.

MR: Right now your set cares about two different axes (plural of axis, not the things used to chop down trees): tribal, and number of creature subtypes. Only one can stay and it's clear to me which one that is. (If it isn't clear to you—reread all my comments above.) I wish the cat bonus was a little bigger. Also, it's odd that the main ability affects one creature but the rider affects many creatures. I would change the rider to "If the targeted creature is a Cat, it gets +N/+0 until end of turn" where N is greater than 1.

Volcanic Flow (CR17)
CARDNAME deals 5 damage to target creature.

KEN: This could be way worse and people would still play it in Limited. Just saying.

MR: Once again, I appreciate how you actually made a set of commons. This is a nice simple card that plays well in Limited. I also like the double red mana to try and make you commit to red to get it.

Desecrate (CR18)
Destroy target artifact or land. If that permanent has any creature types, CARDNAME deals 3 damage to that permanent's controller.

KEN: What on Earth? Since when does a land or artifact have a creature type? This card reads so bizarre in a vacuum, almost like I should have been attacking with my Forests for the past fifteen years. I personally don't like the tribal type and the uncouth templating it has brought to the game forever.

MT: This spell will deal damage to the controller of Veteran's Armaments, for example. Similar cards may appear elsewhere in your set. The card works, but will be confusing to players.

MR: This card shouldn't be at common for multiple reasons. First, we've been cutting down on land destruction at common. This is more expensive, so if not for other factors maybe it could have stayed. Second, you are caring about something that I'm guessing is mostly showing up not at common. And if it is showing up at common, why is that? This is a horrible first card to see from the set as it asks questions that are confusing and then doesn't answer them. These kinds of cards are left out of common to lessen this from happening.


Muraganda builds on the popular tribal theme of Onslaught and Lorwyn while casting its own unique spin. The two sides of the conflict in Escape both care about creature types, but the natives care about quality while the rebels care about quantity.

I scrapped almost everything and started rebuilding from scratch, considering myriad possibilities. Approaching, hybrid, living auras and bind familiar didn't make the transition. Spell morphs are uncommon and may not appear until the second set.

I knew the land had to have power that the Empirians could invade for in the last set but I didn't like the idea of an exact retread of Snow via Sacred / Mystic. Eventually I found that the Tribal type I had so quickly discarded would define the entire block. Tribal will exist on lands and artifacts from common and up, enabling type-checking and sentience-matters effects. Counting effects have been scaled back and types-in-play threshold effects are right out.

The next set sees Rebels adopting the Morph tactics of the local fauna and putting the power of Muraganda's land to use: They will use Tribal mana. I'm thinking, Spider mana, Frog mana and the like. Any mana produced by a permanent with creature type Bird is Bird mana. These symbols will match the petroglyphic watermarks of each tribe. I love the hidden-hybrid implications (each of five tribes belong to two colors each) but could also just use Tribal mana? This is the block to flaunt the word Tribal rather than hide it.

KEN: This submission has creature types-matter, number of creature types-matter, and some Cats and long card names. Oh yeah I almost forgot, morphs too, like Onslaught block. There are three different creature types in this common set to compete for tribal bonuses (and zero-typed morphs). As if the cards needed more identifiers plastered on them, there's tribal Lizards and watermarks wherever possible.
I found this submission almost unsalvageable. A fun Aura does not a set of red commons make.

Highlight: The Tale of the Lazy Cat
Lowlight: Astral Spirit of the Raknak

AF: We are constantly barraged by naysayers complaining that we are running out of ideas any time we bring back a theme or mechanic. They're always wrong, but we are conscious of that line of thinking and try not to play into it. Your set, sadly, makes me think that the ideas, in fact, have run out.

We've done two heavily tribal blocks in the past. Onslaught featured the morph mechanic, and Lorwyn featured the tribal card type. You use both of those. On top of that, you have something incredibly close to kinship (commune), and then this bizarre "two or more creature types matter" theme, which I think is supposed to be a link to whether the groups are sentient or not, but reads incredibly mechanically and doesn't play all that intuitively with older cards (Oracle is full of stuff like "Cat Beast" and plain old "Human").

Additionally, resourceful is hardly worth giving an ability word to as you have to read all the modes each one has every time you cast one, and "cat lore" looks like the kind of keyword primed to be on exactly one card in the set, two at most. There is very little elegance in this set; just read Ancestral Spirit of the Raknak. All those words add up to essentially the card Enrage. In fact, Enrage is probably better most of the time.

Definitely in the bottom half for me.

MT: Jay, reading through your commons makes me a little nervous. On several of your cards, you listed a watermark. None of your submitted cards referenced them, but I expect that cards at higher rarities probably will. Giving watermarks rules significance is not a road you (or we) want to go down. It has implications, from your set not having reprints to affecting the way in which we print promo cards. Keying off of creature types is interesting, although I think the use of tribal muddies the issue a bit. I'm not quite sure where you're going with "bird mana," but I have to say it doesn't fill me with confidence.

MR: Jay, I think you have some great ideas, but you stumbled pretty hard on execution this week. My biggest problem is that in all your choices I lost what was going on. The only reason I know about the two factions fighting for survival is that you told me. Your card set communicates factions, but more than two and there is not a sense that they are fighting one another. I think the biggest problem is that you chose the wrong tools for your task. Hybrid, for instance, would do a much better job of separating the two sides as it is so clear that the two halves are different.

My other big problem is that you are not using your tools as effectively as you could. The tribal effects don't carry enough weight mechanically to make deck builders want to care about them. On most of the cards that use them, they feel like either afterthoughts or options you'd never want to choose. You have to make your key mechanics something that excites the player because they are integral to the play.
I think the next step with this design is to take a step back and rethink how to create your factions. The current execution muddles them too much. Also, if the two sides are fighting one another, you need to imbue your set with that element. I see traces of coolness but they are too hidden right now.

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