The Great Designer Search 2 Finalists

Posted in Feature on November 3, 2010

By Staff

NAME: Jay Treat


1. Introduce yourself and explain why you are a good fit for this internship.

If C3PU were played by Niel Patrick Harris and the Princess Bride by Eliza Dushku, I would be their illegitimate love-child. And by "love-child," I mean, "I'm basically the same nerdy white guy as all the other contestants."

I am a Gamer. I can still remember playing with my parent's plastic bulette mini while they were playing the new Advanced D&D.

I am a Magic Player. I started in Revised, lapsed during the dark years and came back in Mirrodin. There's no looking back now.

I am a Game Designer. I've been designing since high school. I've made war games, board games, card games, party games and video games. But mostly, more than anything else, I've designed Magic. Not because I ever thought it would lead to anything, but because I can't not. I've designed well over 5000 cards. Naturally, most are unusable but even those have great value as design lessons. I've also designed alternate draft formats, optimized leagues and new opportunities for Magic and Wizards.

I'm a Rich Media Designer. I am the Creative Technical Architect for the ad serving industry leader, PointRoll, and am responsible for the architecture of the most complex and dynamic ads for our biggest products and clients, including Ford, WalMart, H&R Block. In my free time, I built a free Magic web app,, that is visual, intuitive and fast.

I am a Leader. I organize the largest draft in the Philadelphia area every Thursday night. PennMagic is non-profit and open to all. We meet at Redcap's Corner and our regulars are some of the best and funnest players you could hope to meet. Stop by if you get the chance.

I am a Nice Guy. All this boasting and "I," "I," "I" is not me. I'm here to make the world a little better and I do that by being polite, making people laugh (I know what you're thinking-I'm in serious mode here, give me a break) and making games.

2. You are instructed to move an ability from one color to another. This ability must be something used in every set (i.e. discard, direct damage, card drawing etc.). You may not choose an ability that has already been color shifted by R&D. What ability do you shift and to what color do you shift it? Explain why you would make that shift.

White should not have out-of-combat creature removal. One of the aspects of Magic that makes the colors so interesting are the strengths and weaknesses that make each color fun to play but never better than the other colors. Blue is weak against creatures and can't kill permanents. Black is the most walkable and can't deal with artifacts or enchantments. Red wins early or not at all and can't handle enchantments. Green has the least disruption and can't kill creatures. White... can't kill land. It has answers to every other permanent-some of which are better than any other color's answers. Exile target X? With no targeting restrictions? Nullifying regeneration, indestructibility and graveyard recursion? That would be okay if White were the king of answers but was vulnerable elsewhere, but it also has cheap, efficient threats and big, powerful bombs.

I'm not suggesting White is broken in terms of play balance. Constructed tournaments would show that. I'm suggesting it's misaligned in terms of design balance. White does not offer the same challenges the other colors do. The question "Can I get away with making this deck mono-colored" is much simpler for White. White offers everything. It offers too much.

My solution to reduce White's scope and bring it into line by limiting its removal preserves the White philosophy. There is great precedence for White removal to be combat-based and, while recent exceptions have been fun, that precedence is worth keeping. "Destroy/Exile target creature" is right out but anything is fair game for attacking creatures. And to make this a relevant answer, I'll say toss those effects to Black.

More removal isn't going to unbalance the killer color and it's not hard to justify "kill anything at a cost" or "kill it out of existence" thematically or mechanically. That said, ease up on exile. Not fun.

3. What block do you feel did the best job of integrating design with creative? What is one more thing that could have been done to make it even better?

I originally named the block that actually put creative before design, Champions of Kamigawa, because that truly did have the greatest flavor infused into the design of the set. It was Art and nothing less. I know a lot of players look back on it poorly, but I enjoyed the craftsmanship and storytelling that went into each and every card.

But having re-read the question, I don't believe Kamigawa was the best integration of design and creative because the design was not quite up to Wizards' recent standard. Pretty much every design evoked the flavor of the block and its denizens consistently, deeply and sometimes eerily-and I found that very satisfying-but when you strip away the window dressing and look at the game itself, you see several expensive flaws: Many players (not me) hated how under-powered the set was; and the set was too linear with Splice onto Arcane (which MaRo writes should have been Instants) and nearly half of the creatures in the set having the same creature type.

No, Zendikar is the best integration of design and creative I have seen. You nailed both the game-play and the flavor with numerous powerful connections between. I think the strategy of iterating between Design and Creative to ultimately build something cohesive together will always yield more tangible links between the world and its mechanics. One way to improve here would have been to tie Rise of the Eldrazi closer to Zendikar and Worldwake. The cataclysmic shift was great story and the hard swing from cheap, aggressive creatures to massive, game-changing creatures was wonderful, but the world changed too much to still feel (or play) like the same plane. Story aside, Rise is not part of the Zendikar block. How does the release of angry gods put an end to Allies? Wouldn't it have been better to see Allies working together to fend off the Eldrazi? The block would have been better served by keeping more elements from Zendikar in Rise, perhaps adapted to or perverted by their bizarre new environment.

4. R&D has recently been looking at rules in the game that aren't pulling their weight. If you had to remove an existing rule from the game for not being worth its inclusion, what would it be?

I'd really like to simplify the structure of the turn, specifically the end step and the confusing and unintuitive shenanigans that are possible because of it. It was never the intention of the rules for you to play Waylay in response to the end of the turn so that you could attack with them next turn and it is one of the graver instances of the rules lawyering that drives new players away from the game. (In fact you'll see Waylay had to be Oracle'd to work as intended.) The final solution would require deep thought from the Rules Team and may be difficult or expensive, or it may be as simple as saying that players may not take any actions during the end step just as they can't during the untap step.

The decision to simplify mana burn was great but the decision to increase the number of times mana drains from your mana pool was a step in the wrong direction: New players are baffled by the concept of mana draining from their pool in the middle of their turn. Even veteran players sometimes forget that mana they gain during combat will not be available during their next main phase. The fact that mana now drains from your pool between the upkeep and draw step or between each step of the combat phase is something most players don't even realize. What if mana didn't drain between steps OR phases? I'm suggesting that mana only drain from a player's mana pool at the end of turn. Very little strategy is lost and almost no cards are nerfed by making this change, but life becomes much easier on players old and new. The cost is one of memory, but it shouldn't come up often as there isn't much reason to float mana before you need it.

5. Name a card currently in Standard that, from a design standpoint, should not have been printed. What is the card and why shouldn't we have printed it?

Mindslaver is a splashy rare that appeals to Spike for its ability to win games, to Timmy for its impressive impact and to Johnny for its devious applications. It is suffused with nostalgia for the original Mirrodin block and few other unbanned cards are so iconic in this regard. It should not have been printed; Neither the first time nor the second.

Every card must pass a number of tests to see the light of press: the card must appeal to one or more player segments; it must not imbalance Magic beyond the game's capacity to adapt; and it must be fun. Now, the topic of fun is greater than a book so I'll use some short-hand to make my point. Lightning Bolt is fun to cast because it's flavorful and effective. In fact, it's so fun that you don't even mind your four-drop getting fried for one mana or your dome sizzling down to 0. If you've got to lose, it might as well be to a good, old-fashioned bolt, right? If this weren't true, no one would play Magic.

It's this symmetry where Mindslaver fails so spectacularly. Even if the active player has the time of his life ruining the other guy's day (something I do not-I play it because it's too good not to, but I am wracked with guilt and cannot enjoy it), the other guy will never appreciate it. It comes down to this: Players play games because they enjoy playing them. Having your turn skipped is the second worst thing you can do to a player. You've taken away the most core reason they sat down at the table. Having someone else take that turn for you?

6. What do you think design can do to best make the game accessible to newer players?

The best way to make the game accessible to newer players is for existing players to share their enthusiasm with their friends and teach them how to play. Apart from continuing to make the greatest game in the world, the only way I can see for Wizards itself to promote this method of acquisition would be to offer players incentives for teaching new players. Perhaps something along the lines of a foil promo card for each DCI referral or the clever, unannounced pizza-at-a-game-store stunt.

Innovation and nostalgia-while phenomenal for player retention-is not helpful for acquisition and perhaps even counter to it. Telling your friend, "you should play Magic because it's a great game and, hey, check out this crazy new card with Imprint" is one of the better ways to scare players off. Telling them that over 11,000 unique cards exist also doesn't help your case.

In my experience, you want to focus on the now and you want to introduce them to the core set. Thank goodness the core set doesn't suck anymore. You want to show them a skeleton and an elf and a dragon and then 'Bolt and Doom Blade and Giant Growth. "Whoa" is what they will say. And then you teach them the basic of combat. Then mana and finally the deck and phases of the game.

What can design do? Resonate. This is Magic's silver bullet. Make more skeletons, elves, dragons and classic fantasy spells. Stripped of its theme, Magic is an impressive game... that only poker players would enjoy. Resonance is the name of the game. To be clear, I'm not just talking about great flavor, but the moment when mechanics meet flavor and the viewer cannot claim the match is less than perfect.

I was saying "Woo, 2010."

7. What do you think design can do to best make the game attractive to experienced players?

Ultimately, experienced players play the game for the same reason new players join it: Because enchanting golems, sucking the life essence out of elves and smashing face with a stampede of crazy monsters is, well, freakin' awesome. They're also looking for a solid game-play experience that is not the same as last year's. This is where design innovation and game development are crucial. Gamers buy new games all the time and they stop playing most of the old ones. Enter Magic's other silver bullet. The fact that it continually reinvents itself-within the existing framework-means that players can have a new game experience with a guarantee of quality without learning a brand new game.

Which leads us to the third big player keeper: the marriage of the old and the new. If there were no Standard or Extended format-if it were all Vintage-I probably wouldn't be playing today. Many popular games produce expansions which add more stuff to the game-play and that keeps us interested for a while longer. But as they grow and grow, they lose the very elegance that sold them in the first place. Magic was smart enough to say, "no, you don't have to worry about all that came before" and that is nothing short of brilliant. The fact that the game can support huge, old formats as well as new, rapidly changing formats-catering to both tastes-is perhaps more of a testament than the ridiculous dollar figures that have humbled it's competitors for nearly 20 years.

So what can design do to retain players? Keep up the good work! Don't forget the resonance that brought them in to start with and keep the players guessing, but not about quality.

8. Of all the mechanics currently in Extended, which one is the best designed? Explain why.


What? That's not what you meant? Nor 250 words? Oh. Uh...

Landfall is the best designed mechanic currently in Extended that does not also exist outside of Extended. The real question being asked here is what is your measure of design success. A design must be viscerally satisfying, instantly grokkable, flavorful, differently applicable, provide interesting decisions and not create overly-complicated game states. In other words, fun.

Landfall is viscerally satisfying because it rewards players, as MaRo has written more than once, for doing something they should be doing anyhow. Land is crucial to the game so you can know for a fact that every player is going to trigger a Landfall ability at least once and they're going to appreciate the effect it generates.

Landfall is instantly grokkable. Play a land: get a thing. Doesn't get much more straight-forward than that. Putting it on instants was a bit trickier, but coming out of the second set with players already familiar with the trigger-based version, it was still mighty easy.

Landfall is flavorful. Zendikar is the adventure block so you are rewarded for exploring new lands. "Ooh, another Forest. Yummy!"-Grazing Gladeheart

Landfall was used in different ways. Landfall means +2/+2. It spawns a guy. It progresses quests. It magnifies effects.

Landfall made drawing land late bearable (and even desirable), but it also generated compelling decisions around when to play land and when to hold it, or what order to play your landfall and non-landfall creatures in. Combined with otherwise boring land fetching cards, it even made combat exciting.

Landfall does make the game more complex-as does every mechanic, by definition-but it is relatively very simple. Most of the time, you just keep in mind your opponent may drop a land on his turn and get whatever one-time effects he's signed up for. Beyond that, just don't forget the quests and tokens that have already been generated and you'll be fine. Compare that to counting charge counters across multiple permanents, remembering suspended spells, comparing colors or tracking cards in hand.

Landfall is fun.

9. Of all the mechanics currently in Extended, which one is the worst designed? Explain why.

Devour is the least successful, major mechanic in Extended today. That says quite a bit for Wizards since it really was better for the game than not. What's fun about Devour is the ability to create huge monsters. Combining Devour with powerful effects like Tarfiend's and Mycoloth's helped cement this as a solid Timmy mechanic. It nailed the flavor of Jund and it's honestly fun to play a creature so bad-ass that it clears your board of chaff to make more room for itself.

That said, Devour saw almost no tournament constructed play, so it wasn't a huge hit with Spike and the only thing "Johnny" about it is finding clever ways to feed it or combo out. Most players don't enjoy sacrificing their own creatures. In the context of Alara, there were numerous ways to get out token fodder so there were often decent options to feed your Devour guys, but in limited you can rarely count on the order your cards come out or the state of the board, so it was still common to play a Devour guy with nothing to bring it up to par or else to hold it in your hand while your face gets smashed because you might draw some fuel. Even when you did get Godzilla on the board, your opponent would often just destroy it or, worse, bounce it.

As Tom LaPille wrote, "Dragon Broodmother puts a complicated choice to its controller every upkeep, and I watched several players at the Alara Reborn Prerelease struggling to figure out what to do with a fresh token." While Broodmother is the epitome of this tough decision-causing it every turn-this was basically the mini-dilemma players faced with every single Devour guy (except the subtly brilliant Gluttonous Slime which actually makes a player feel clever about his sacrifices).

Devour is by no means a bad mechanic, but its faults were the greatest of the recent keyword mechanics.

10. Choose a plane to revisit other than Dominaria or Mirrodin. What is a mechanical twist we could add if we revisit this plane?

Now that hybrid has been hashed out more thoroughly, it is a no-brainer for Ravnica Reloaded to use more heavily. The twist I recommend is somewhere between Firespout and Andrew Emmott's Skritano Tumbler: A cadre of hybrid spells that do an amount of one thing proportional to the mana spent of the first color and an amount of another thing proportional to the mana spent of the second color. Those two effects would of course have an interesting and/or relevant relationship. I know this is cool and doable because I designed dozens of them in 2006 after hybrid was originally revealed.


Odor Mask (common)
1 R/G
For each R spent casting CARDNAME, a target creature can't block this turn.
For each G spent casting CARDNAME, a target creature must block target creature this turn if able.

Whipping Winds (uncommon)
2 G/U
For each U spent casting CARDNAME, a target creature gains flying until EOT.
For each G spent casting CARDNAME, it deals 1 damage to each creature with flying.

Imply (rare)
For each U spent casting CARDNAME, counter target spell unless its controller pays 1.
If he or she does pay, CARDNAME deals 1 damage to him or her for each R spent casting it.

Golgari Mulcher (uncommon)
3 B
Creature - Plant Zombie
When CARDNAME ETB, put the top card of your library into your graveyard for each B spent casting it. For each G spent casting it, you may exile a land card from your graveyard. For each card exiled this way, put a +1/+1 counter on CARDNAME.

Control Damage (mythic)
2 R/W R/W
For each RW spent casting CARDNAME, redirect the next 3 damage dealt to target creature or player to another target creature or player.
For each remaining W spent casting CARDNAME, prevent the next 2 damage dealt to the first target.
For each remaining R spent casting CARDNAME, it deals 1 damage to the second target.


Part I - Show Us Your World

A. What is the name of your world?

The name of the first set is Escape to Muraganda.

B. Describe your world in one sentence or one sentence fragment. (15 word maximum.) For example: An adventure world where the land itself attacks all visitors.

Venser gates refugees from totalitarian Empiria to primitive Muragunda where mystery, war and decimation follow.

C. Describe the flavor of your world. (250 word maximum)

Muraganda is a tropical plane as beautiful as it is deadly. Fierce natives inhabit its islands and tricky predators prowl relentlessly. When Venser's planeship, Eternity, crash lands during their daring escape from the mad dictators of Empiria, the refugees are stranded and forced to make a home for themselves in this most uncivilized of places. Their advanced culture, determination and adaptability help to even the odds against the blind hunger of the indigenous species and the xenophobic fear of the local 'savages.' Savages who would object to being called that if they could speak any of the Empirian dialects.

It is this very lack of common ground that allows the conflict to become so bloody. The Muragundans are defending their home and their families against an unfathomed invasion while the Empirians are fighting for survival in a brutal, sweltering world they know nothing about. Just when a betting ?walker might place odds on the rebels because of their advanced, practical understanding of arcane life and warfare, the natives crash back with unexpected force and precision, empowered by a mysterious force. Muragundan mystics have long worshiped and led their people under the thrumming power of sacred lands, the power of which will not remain a secret for much longer.

Can Grand Elder Olanti hold the five tribes together through the blood-shed? Can the new leader of the rebels, Captain Faulk find an olive branch to extend before this world eats his people alive?

D. Describe your world through the lens of its mechanics. (250 word maximum)

There are five Muragundan tribes, each mono-colored and each sporting the new ability word, Mystic. Mystic makes creatures and spells larger or gives them access to unique abilities as long as you control enough sacred Murgandan lands. Any land with charge counters is sacred, so there is a nod to backwards compatibility in this, the set's main linear mechanic. The native Muragundan beasts sport the set's secondary linear mechanic in Morph, representing their unknown nature and unpredictable hunting behavior. New twists include Spell Morph, Trap Morph and morph creatures with no mana cost.

On the rebel side of things, we have the modular mechanics championed by five allied-colored hybrid races. The sentient rebels sport Versatile, an ability word that allows them to use a comes-into-play ability if desired or to hit the battlefield a little harder when not. The animals they brought are domesticated and trained, introducing a new equipment-like mechanic for creatures: Bind Familiar. These mounts, companions and familiars lend their strength to a bound creature and sometimes share helpful abilities. The rebels will need all the help they can get to go toe-to-toe with the ravenous beasties out there. "Approaching" is a new keyword that rewards players' adaptability: when you draw a card with Approaching, you get one chance to take advantage of a cheap bonus effect.
All in all, the Natives are about focusing on gathering Mystic power while the rebels are about adapting and improvising to keep your opponents on their toes.

Part II – Show Us Your Week One Preview Cards

1. Week 1 Feature

Olanti, Nateen Elder (mythic)
Legendary Creature – Insect Druid
Mystic – Olanti, Nateen Elder enters the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter on it for each land you control with charge counters on it.
Spells targeting creatures you control costs 1 more to cast for each +1/+1 counter on Olanti, Nateen Elder.

2. Making Magic

Riding Wumpus (rare)
Creature – Beast
Trample. Bound creature has trample.
Bind Familiar 3G (3G, tap Riding Wumpus: Attach it to target creature without Bind Familiar. The bound creature gains Riding Wumpus's power and toughness. Bind only as a sorcery. You may choose not to untap Riding Wumpus during your untap step. When it becomes untapped, unattach it.)

3. Serious Fun

Anuk, Death Priest (mythic)
[Anuk, Death Tyrant -
Planeswalker – Anuk
+2: For each creature put into a graveyard this turn, put a 2/2 black Zombie creature token into play.
-3: Target creature's controller sacrifices it.
-6: Target player loses X life and you gain X life, where X is the number of creature cards in all graveyards.

4. Limited Information

Bladetooth Totem (uncommon)
[Beastheart Totem -
Tribal Artifact – Beast
T: Add G to your mana pool.
G, T: Target creature you control becomes a 3/3 green Beast until end of turn.

5. Savor the Flavor

Captain Faulk (mythic)
3 (w/u) (w/u)
Legendary Creature – Bird Rebel
Versatile – When Captain Faulk enters the battlefield, choose one: Return each creature with one or zero creature types to its owner's hand; or put three +1/+1 counters on Captain Faulk.

6. Building on a Budget

Living Storm (common)
[Living Flame -
Tribal Instant – Elemental
Living Storm deals 4 damage to target creature or player.
Spell Morph 1R (You may play this face down as a 2/2 creature for 3. Turn it face up any time for its morph cost.)
As you turn Living Storm face-up, cast it from the battlefield without paying its mana cost.

7. Top Decks

Stonehead (rare)
Stonehead enters the battlefield tapped with a charge counter on it.
T: Add 1 mana to your mana pool.
Mystic – 2: Stonehead becomes a creature until end of turn with power and toughness equal to the number of lands you control with charge counters on them.

8. From the Lab

Venser, Planar Guide (mythic)
[Venser Awakened -
Planeswalker – Venser
+2: Search your library for a permanent card with converted mana cost 1 or less and put that card onto the battlefield.
-4: Sacrifice all lands you control, then search your library for that many land cards and put them onto the battlefield tapped.
-10: Search your library for any number of permanent cards and put them onto the battlefield.

9. The Week That Was

Foreign Pox (rare)
Choose two – Either each player sacrifices a creature; each player discards a card; each player sacrifices a land; or each player loses 3 life.
Approaching – Choose one (When you draw Foreign Pox, you may reveal it. If you do, choose one.)

10. Latest Developments

Wind Boon (common)
Enchantment – Aura
Enchanted creature has shroud and is unblockable.
1U: Put a 1/1 blue Elemental creature token onto the battlefield with Wind Boon attached. Play this ability only from your hand and only when you could play a sorcery.

Commentary (on the card designs)
Most mystics are common or uncommon and not nearly as dramatic as Olanti. Each color uses Mythic in its own, unique way to keep it from feeling repetitive. It's a flavorful mechanic that doesn't require much headspace.

Riding Wumpus is a fun card that is a reasonable threat on its own and a huge step toward "building your own monster." Imagine binding it to an Ophidian, for instance. There's probably a shorter reminder template, but I had to convey almost all of the rules here.

Anuk was a great find on the Wiki. He fits the mayan/snake theme of the black tribe and is just fun.

Bladetooth Totem answered a request for tribal artifacts, but seeing Tribal Artifact was just too good to pass up.

Captain Faulk represents maybe a quarter of the cards in the set that are allied-colored hybrid cards and many of them have Versatile or some other simple choice to keep thinky players happy. He also hints at a sentience-matters sub-theme.

Living Storm was a freak coincidence. I'd made a cycle of spell morphs I couldn't use but I saw this on Chah's page and it was--wording apart--identical except for being double my version. Creature morphs are much more common.

Stonehead is the only creature-land, but it shows the charge counter template. I went with counters over card types or keywords because they're much easier to count during play.

The Approaching keyword usually has a cost, but I wanted to push Foreign Pox.

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