The Great Designer Search 2 Finalists

Posted in Feature on November 3, 2010

By Staff

NAME: Daniel Williams


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

My name is Daniel Williams and designing cards for Magic is my dream job. I've been playing the game since Judgment and have been creating custom cards for nearly that long. Often as I roamed the cotton fields of South Georgia (USA) as part of my summer job, I would daydream about creating my own set. Since then, I have strove to create a block that fulfilled the highest mechanical and creative standards. My latest effort towards this goal is a block which takes place on the plane of Deadsands, where rain is scare and death is everywhere. The Deadsands block is Magic meets the Wild West. On Deadsands, large deposits of magically infused crystals have been discovered, setting off massive migrations and a plane-wide "gold rush". The crystals have made violent and dangerous magic more available than ever, leading to an atmosphere where deadly spellslinging battles can break out at any time. I would love to go into much more detail about this project, but, even more than that, I want to give you a better idea of who I am as a person. I grew up in a house on a cow pasture in the middle of nowhere with the closest town being Americus, Georgia. I am 22 years old and I recently graduated from the University of Georgia. Over the course of my academic career, I participated in 4-H, competitive swimming, fencing, and Yoshukai karate. I am charismatic, optimistic, creative, imaginative, and get along well with almost everyone. My favorite things about designing custom cards are creating new mechanics, finding untapped design space, combining existing mechanics and components to create things that are new and different, and designing resonant top-down cards that capture the essence of what inspired me. I am a great fit for this internship because I have the vision to imagine entire worlds, the creativity to generate new ideas, and the will to make these ideas and these worlds realities.

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.

Out of all the colors, red has the greatest need for new abilities. Speaking from personal experience, it is very difficult to design new and interesting cards for red. Most of red's design space is occupied by direct damage spells, aggressive creatures, and keyword abilities for those aggressive creatures, which makes it hard to come up with new and interesting cards for red. I believe the most appropriate mechanic to move to red is discard. Discard would increase the disruptive aspects of the color, give it the power to be more controlling, and, most importantly, would open a whole new area of design space. Red discard also makes a lot of sense creatively and mechanically. Creatively, black discard is typically depicted as mental stress, madness, or a brute force attack on the mind. These three things are well within red's capabilities, as shown by cards such as Panic Attack (mental stress), Act of Treason (madness), and Molten Psyche (brute force mental attacks). Speaking of Molten Psyche, red also has a mechanical basis for this ability, because cards like Wheel of Fortune and Molten Psyche do something that is very similar to discard. That said, I would only move non-selective discard (Mind Rot and such) to red and I would leave selective discard (things like Duress) in black. I would do this because discard is such an integral part of black that it would be a shame to remove it entirely and because red simply doesn't have the patience to employ magic as precise and painstaking as selective discard. After this ability shift, very small amounts of random discard would also be appropriate for red but it would probably be better if that mechanic was mostly reserved for black and red multicolor cards instead.

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?

The Alara block did the best job of integrating design and creative by using mechanics to exemplify the characteristics and values of each shard. Exalted shows Bant is plane of order and chivalry, Esper's artifact theme demonstrates that it is a plane of artifice and design, unearth proves Grixis is a plane of horror and death, devour characterizes the hostility and savagery of Jund, and Naya's big creature theme shows that gargantuans truly rule the plane. Each card in the set also serves as an able ambassador for its shard. Even the cards that don't have one of the above mechanics play well with them and reinforce the same themes. These cards also illustrate through their creature types that each shard has its own special assortment of races, cultures, and wildlife. The truly amazing thing about this block is that it created not just one unique and interesting plane, but five. The biggest change that would have made the integration between design and creative in this set even better would be removing or deemphasizing the five-color theme that emerged in Conflux. In my opinion, this theme drew too much focus away from each shard. Without this theme, more attention and resources could have been devoted to further emphasizing the distinctiveness of each plane. I also have mixed feelings about the Conflux itself. While it was cool to see how each shard's mechanics were used by the other shards, this mechanical exchange also made each shard feel a little less special and unique.

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 would remove the maximum hand size rule. It rarely comes up in an actual game of Magic and when it does, its impact on that game is minimal. In my experience, there are only two situations where players are affected by this rule. They are either hopelessly mana screwed, can't cast anything, and will most certainly lose, or they have drawn a ridiculous number of cards and are almost guaranteed to win. In the former case, the maximum hand size rule only serves to make the plight of these luckless souls worse. Concerning the latter case, the loss of an island or two does little to curb these player's prospects of victory. Furthermore, the maximum hand size rule adds an annoying element of bookkeeping that slows down gameplay and is easy to forget about since it comes up so infrequently. When such forgetfulness inevitably occurs in casual play, players are forced to correct it during someone else's turn, which can also slow down the game and/or make that player look like a cheater. God forbid such an oversight happens during a tournament match. The only thing thing the maximum hand size rule does which approaches usefulness is that it places a limit on the power of mass amounts of card drawing. But as I mentioned earlier, the rule will only claim the worst cards in a hand. More importantly, I believe the power level of mechanics and abilities should be controlled by design and development, not by Magic's basic rules. As a final point of evidence that this rule is inconsequential, only 16 cards directly reference maximum hand size in their rules text. If the rule was removed, three of these cards (Recycle, Null Profusion, Cursed Rack) could be fixed with errata. The power level the rest would either increase or decrease accordingly, but not in such a way that Magic as a whole would be significantly affected. This change would be painful for people who love these cards, but the benefits reaped by the Magic player base at large would be well worth 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?

Hornet Sting should not have been printed. I believe green needs more cards to deal with opposing creatures, especially chump blockers and utility creatures, but this card violates the color pie in a ways that are not necessary. First of all, it gives green access to non-conditional direct damage, something that has not been a part of its share of abilities for quite some time. The fact that it deals damage to creatures is mostly forgivable; green already has several cards that deal direct damage to creatures with flying. But, as a creature-centric color that values the survival of the fittest, I believe green's creature removal should be creature based. Green already has several abilities like provoke and the "Tracker" ability that could serve this role quite well. The newly printed Wing Puncture also exemplifies an appropriate category of creature based removal. These abilities could serve green quite well, without the need to go outside of its slice of the pie. The worst part of Hornet Sting, though, is that gives green the ability to deal direct damage to players. Green should not have this type of reach. Its battles should be won by the might and power of its creatures. Its opponents should be vanquished in an onslaught of teeth and claws and not by a single tiny spell that was delivered from distant safety. That said, Magic R&D's recent experiments with removal spells for green have been noble efforts, but in this case, Hornet Sting went too far.

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

To make Magic as accessible as possible to new players, design should work to minimize or work around three of the game's major barriers to entry: rules complexity, unfamiliar flavor, and cost. The M10 rules update made great strides to reduce the complexity issue but I feel greater steps can be taken to simplify and streamline Magic's basic rules. Rules that do nothing or add needless complexity to the game should be eliminated. This philosophy of simplicity should also be applied to individual card design. As much as possible, cards should work in a manner that is logical and intuitive. A new player should be able to correctly figure out how a given set of cards interact. As for flavor, Magic's unique conceptual elements can be confusing for someone just getting into the game. Things like leonin, vedalken, levithans, and planeswakers are quite outside the neophyte's previous experiences. While all of these things are great and help make Magic what it is, they should not be used to the complete exclusion of more familiar fantasy concepts. Again, M10 did a fine job of returning to Magic's high-fantasy roots by adding a welcome dose of traditional fantasy to the game. It is also important that expert level expansions maintain an element of familiar fantasy and that individual cards have resonant and flavorful concepts. I believe Magic should also continue to tap into the well-known tropes of other genres as it did with Zendikar and Kamigawa. Concerning cost, Magic is and will always be an expensive game to play. Design can help newer players overcome this barrier by making sure that each set's powerful, tournament-worthy cards are distributed among all four rarities and are not just rares and mythic rares. Design should also ensure that for every standard environment, there is at least one or two reasonably competitive deck archetypes that can be built without spending a lot of money, as this will allow players to participate in standard, regardless of their budget.

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

The three main things that design can do to keep experienced players engaged are utilizing nostalgia, supporting low-cost archetypes, and providing formats and products that require little to no setup time. Nostalgia can be employed by visiting previously established planes, reusing old mechanics, or simply by printing cards that fit well into old archetypes. Nostalgia is important because is reminds veteran players why they got into the game in the first place and why they love to play Magic as much as they do. The former two elements are even more crucial though. Many players quit Magic not because they are dissatisfied with the game, but simply because they no longer have the time or money to keep playing. As I mentioned above, design can help out with cost by spreading out tournament-caliber cards among all rarities and by supporting inexpensive archetypes. This allows players facing changes to their financial situations to keep playing Magic. It also allows people who have not been able to play in a while to cheaply and easily get back into the game. But time is almost, if not more, important than money. As players get older, they face growing responsibilities to their jobs and families. By continuing to devote attention to the limited formats and continuing to produce expert-level preconstructed products like Duel Decks, design allows these people to quickly and easily play Magic whenever they have the opportunity, without them having to spend the time it takes to build and maintain a deck for a constructed format.

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

Equip is the best designed mechanic in Extended and has all the attributes of a good mechanic. Equipment cards are great mechanical representations of weapons, armor, and tools. As in reality, they are tangible objects that can be used by almost anyone and can be handed off to an ally when necessary. Thus, they are very resonant and flavorful cards. Because of this, equipment can be easily understood and appreciated by newer players. The equipment subtype is also extremely versatile. It can represent a variety of concepts and fulfill a number of roles in any given set. Equipment cards can be anything from simple farm tools to epic weapons of world shaking power. They can be the weapons of war, the tools of stealth, or the gear needed to blaze a trail through the unforgiving wilds. They can be simple workhorse commons or mighty mythic rares. Equip does something quite unlike anything that came before it. Sure, equipment bears a strong resemblance to auras, but the fact that it can be reused, moved around, and (in most cases) utilized by any color makes it significantly different from everything that came before it. Equipment also has an enormous amount of design space. The sheer amount of possible concepts and mechanical variations for equipment is enormous. As a testament to its potential, the mechanic became evergreen as soon as it was introduced. In the same way that mystical weapons and armor have always been a huge part of fantasy, equipment will forever be an important part of Magic.

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

Faerie tribal is the worst designed mechanic in Extended. With the exception of Bitterblossom, I don't believe that any given faerie card is broken. Instead, the degenerative aspects of this archetype arise mainly out of the synergistic power of its constituent cards. Taken together, this tribe has virtually every effect that an aggro-control deck would ever want. Spellstutter Sprite counters spells, Pestermite disrupts the opposing offense, Scion of Oona shrouds and buffs the whole faerie army, Vendilion Clique provides hand disruption, Sower of Temptation steals creatures, and Mistbind Clique steals entire turns. In addition to doing all of these things, the fact that these effects come attached to creatures allows those playing faerie decks to control the game while simultaneously advancing their board position. Most of these cards also have flash, thus giving these players an enormous amount of options at any given point in the game. The particularly egregious thing about faerie tribal, though, is that it prevents opposing decks from playing the game. Nothing sucks the fun out of Magic quite like being forced to stand by and watch helplessly while your opponent clobbers you. Even if you build your deck to combat the archetype, playing against faeries is an uphill battle. And to top it all off, the archetype has Bitterblossom, a decidedly broken enchantment and one of the best cards of all time. While the other faerie cards shut your deck down, Bitterblossom relentlessly pumps out a wave of deadly faerie flyers. In summation, the variety and power of disruption and control contained within this archetype, coupled with its potent air force, make faerie tribal the least fun and most degenerate mechanic in all of extended.

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

I've been wanting to go back to Ravnica for quite some time now. The philosophical and mechanical distinctiveness of each guild, the concept of a sprawling city-plane, and all the awesome gold cards easily make it my favorite block. My mechanical twist would be to make the block's theme mono-colored versus multi-colored. This conflict inevitably comes up whenever a player contemplates what color or colors they will use in a deck they are building. It would be interesting if there was an environment that made this choice explicit. The story behind this conflict would be an uprising of the Ravnica's guildless multitudes and a plane-wide civil war. In this new look at Ravnica, the ten guilds have their original mechanics and multicolor focus and are struggling to reestablish their hold on the plane. Conversely, the guildless are using the power of mono-color magic to attempt to overthrow the guilds. Mechanically, this monocolor theme would be expressed through cards that rewarded you for playing mono-color cards, playing many cards of a certain color, and using lots of a given basic land type. The block would also feature several powerful cards that had multiple mana symbols of the same type in their mana cost. A twist to the "enhanced" spell mechanic seen on Seed Spark and similar cards would be cards that provided incremental benefits for each mana of a given color that you spent to cast them. Chroma and retrace could also be employed in new and interesting ways in this block. As far as deck construction goes, there would be plenty of crossover between the two factions. Monocolor decks could use mono-colored guild cards, and would thus have access to the guild mechanics. Multicolor decks could also use cards that favored playing a given color since they would be composed of a least two colors.


Part I - Show Us Your World

A. What is the name of your world?


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.

Description: Magic meets the Wild West

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

Deadsands is an unforgiving plane of desert and scrub, where rain is scarce and death is everywhere. Still, there is hope for those who call it home, for amidst the burning sands, great riches have been discovered. The land is littered with deposits of mysterious and previously unknown crystals. Rife with strange, arcane energy, this material is sought after by wizards and artificers, prospectors and businessmen. Great multitudes of settlers strike out to look for new veins of crystals, hoping to find wealth and escape the daily struggle for survival. But the new frontier opened by the crystal rush is a perilous place, for the crystals have made deadly and dangerous magic more available than ever. The arm of the law is slow to follow the migration, and lethal spellfire can break out at any time.

Deadsands features outlaws, lawmen, settlers, criminals, mining barons, gamblers, and snake oil salesmen. The fierce viashino and territorial elves are fighting to keep their lands and preserve their way of life. The wandering Kor are looking for a place to call home while the curious Vedalken seek to learn everything about the crystals. The mining baron Mordecai Sloan controls the ruthless vampire gangs and is setting into motion a plan that will grant him dominion of not only the crystal frontier, but the very plane itself. In his way stands a man known as the Outlaw, a living legend whose quest for vengeance will not end until Mordecai is dead.

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

Showdown (Starting with you, each player in the showdown may reveal a card from his or her hand. Repeat this process until neither of you reveals a card. A player wins if his or her revealed cards had a higher total converted mana cost.)
- Represents the classic western shootout. Revealing multiple cards adds variance to each showdown and tests the skills of its participants. Showdown also enables Hold-Out and Revelation (see below).
Hold-Out [Cost] (When this card is revealed from your hand by a spell or ability you control, you may cast it for [cost])
Revelation- includes abilities that trigger whenever the card itself is revealed from your hand by a spell or ability you control and abilities that trigger when the card is in play and another card is revealed from your hand by a spell or ability you control (Hold-Out excepted)
-The existence of Hold-Out and Revelation create suspense whenever a card is about to be revealed. They can also lead to turns where lots of spell and abilities resolve and gameplay that resembles magical firefights. Like a gun up your sleeve or a knife in your boot, these mechanics represent secret weapons at your disposal.
Spellslingers- cards (mostly creatures) with extra abilities that trigger if you reveal a card with certain specified properties
Retaliate- cards that are more powerful if a creature you control was destroyed this turn

Deadsands also features Provoke, revealing cards as a cost, and more Flash than normal.

Part II – Show Us Your Week One Preview Cards

1. Feature Article
Harland Ford, Outlaw (Mythic Rare)
Planeswalker- Harland
+1: Reveal a card from your hand. If that card is red, Harland Ford, Outlaw deals 1 damage to target creature or player.
-2: Until the beginning of your next upkeep, the next time you cast an instant or sorcery spell, add X R to your mana pool, where X is that spell's converted mana cost.
-5: Exile your graveyard. Harland Ford, Outlaw deals X damage divided as you choose among any number of target creatures or players, where X is equal to the total converted mana cost of the cards exiled this way.
-The Outlaw is Deadsands pivotal character. Most of the block's story revolves around his quest for vengeance and retribution, thus giving Doug a great opportunity to unveil this story. His abilities are designed to mirror and work well with Deadsands? major mechanics.

2. Making Magic
Answered Prayers (Rare)
Put two 4/4 white Angel creature tokens with flying onto the battlefield.
Holdout- 3ww (When this card is revealed from your hand by a spell or ability you control, you may cast it for 3ww)
-a splashy card that leads to nasty surprises for your opponents, especially if it's played for its Hold-Out cost. Introduces Hold-Out and allows Mark to talk about the process of creating a block that cares about what's in your hand.

3. Serious Fun
Ace of Ants (Rare)
Creature - Insect
Revelation-Whenever Ace of Ants is revealed from your hand by a spell or ability you control, you may pay 1G. If you do, put X 1/1 green Insect creature tokens onto the battlefield, where X is equal to the converted mana cost of the last spell you cast this turn.
-a fun Timmy/Johnny card that pumps out lots of tokens and serves as a powerful offense threat before and after it hits the battlefield

4. Limited Information:
Darkfire Desperado (Uncommon)
Creature- Vampire Rogue
Spellslinger- When Darkfire Desperado enters the battlefield, you may reveal a card from your hand. If that card is red, Darkfire Desperado deals 2 damage to target creature or player.
-a powerful creature/removal spell for limited and constructed that will shape deck construction decisions in both format types

5. Savor the Flavor
Sand Tribe Raiders (Rare)
[Sandwild Raiders-
Creature - Viashino Warrior
Whenever Sand Tribe Raiders deals combat damage to a player, have a showdown with that player. If you win, that player sacrifices two permanents. (Starting with you, each player in the showdown may reveal a card from his or her hand. Repeat this process until neither of you reveals a card. A player wins if his or her revealed cards had a higher total converted mana cost.)
-a solid rare that introduces Showdown and allows Doug to elaborate on the roles of the native Viashino and Elf tribes in the story while describing the flavor behind Showdown

6. Building on a Budget
Ghost Town (Uncommon)
Tap: Add 1 to your mana pool.
2w, Tap: Put a 1/1 white Spirit creature token with flying onto the battlefield. Play this ability only if a creature was put into a graveyard from the battlefield this turn.
- a readily available card that could easily be the centerpiece of multiple budget decks

7. Top Decks
Deadly Recriminations (Rare)
Destroy all creatures.
Retaliate- If a creature you control was destroyed this turn, you many cast Deadly Recriminations as though it had flash.
- a format-defining rare with serious constructed applications and a heritage that can be traced back to Rout

8. From the Lab
Cardsharp's Knack (Rare)
1u: Draw a card, discard a card, and then reveal a card from your hand.
- a great Johnny card that, in addition to working well with Revelation, Hold-Out, and Showdown; works well in almost any combo deck

9. The Week that Was
Fury's Blade (Uncommon)
[Crystal Stave-
Artifact - Equipment
Equipped creature gets +2/+1 and has provoke.
Equip 3
Retaliate - 0: Attach Fury's Blade to a creature you control. Activate this ability only if a creature you control was destroyed this turn. (Lethal damage causes creatures to be destroyed.)
- goes well in most any aggressive deck

10. Latest Developments
Mortician's Glee (Common)
Exile target card in a graveyard. You gain life equal to that card's converted mana cost.
Hold-out B
- surprises opponents by providing you with a needed life swing or by removing a key card from an opponent's graveyard. Allows Tom to tell Hold-Out's development story

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