Great Designer Search 3 – Challenge #1

Posted in Feature on May 17, 2018

By Mark Rosewater

Working in R&D since '95, Mark became Magic head designer in '03. His hobbies: spending time with family, writing about Magic in all mediums, and creating short bios.

Hello, everyone!

Welcome back to the Great Designer Search 3. Last time, we gave the Top 8 designers their first design challenge. First we'll show you the challenge, then we'll see how each of the contestants fared.

Design Challenge #1: You Might as Well Tribal

Tribal themes (cards that mechanically care about one or more creature types) have been popular since Limited Edition (Alpha). For this challenge, we want you to choose a creature type, ideally one that hasn't seen a lot of love in Magic's history, and design eight cards. As this is a design challenge, there are few requirements you'll have to meet:

  1. The creature type has to be unique from the other designers. We'll be taking requests first come, first served. Each designer will be using a different creature type. The creature type must be one that already exists in Magic and we strongly urge you avoid ones that have had a lot of previous tribal designs.

  2. All the creatures should be designed as if they were from the same set. Assume the set is a Standard-legal set.

  3. All eight cards must mechanically care about the creature type. They should not simply be the creature type.

  4. Two cards must be designed in each rarity (common, uncommon, rare, and mythic rare).

  5. At least two different colors must be used. The colors have to thematically fit the creature type in question. Multicolor designs are not required, but are allowed.

  6. You must have at least one artifact, one creature, one enchantment, one instant, one land, and one sorcery among your cards. (The remaining cards can be whatever you'd like.)

  7. For named keyword mechanics, you are allowed access to all evergreen mechanics and up to two non-evergreen mechanics (keywords and/or ability words). Note that there is no requirement to use named mechanics. Please do not create any new named keyword mechanics.

What will the judges be looking for?

Flavorful Design: The designs need to capture the feel of the creature type. These shouldn't be designs that any creature type could use, they should be designs that specifically make sense because of the creature type you're designing for.

Fun Gameplay: These cards can't just read well, they need to play well, most importantly in a tribal-themed deck. Make sure to build a tribal deck and playtest your designs.

Synergy: As the cards are all being designed as if they appear in the same set, we'll be looking at how well they play with one another.

Originality: Magic has made a lot of tribal cards over the years. We would like at least some of your designs to explore new tribal design space.

Color Pie Appropriateness: Your color choice needs to be appropriate to your flavor as well as your mechanical designs. Bends are allowed if appropriate (although be frugal with them), but breaks are not.

Rarity Appropriateness: Your designs need to fit into the rarity you're designing for. You can assume your tribal theme is large enough that it can show up in all rarities. Be careful in how you interact with creature types that aren't normally referenced at common.

Card Type Appropriateness: Make sure that your cards are properly representing the card type they're in. Note to be careful with cards that are mimicking other card types (for example, instants or sorceries that only create tokens). You have a little flexibility as we're only asking you to commit to six card types. You can use the extra cards to play in that space (aka if you make a sorcery that creates tokens, also make a sorcery that acts like a sorcery).

You will need to submit the following:

Your Name

Design 1 (YOUR FIRST COMMON)
Design 2 (YOUR SECOND COMMON)
Design 3 (YOUR FIRST UNCOMMON)
Design 4 (YOUR SECOND UNCOMMON)
Design 5 (YOUR FIRST RARE)
Design 6 (YOUR SECOND RARE)
Design 7 (YOUR FIRST MYTHIC RARE)
Design 8 (YOUR SECOND MYTHIC RARE)

Comments: You will have up to 250 words to say whatever you want about your design. You are free to talk about individual cards, but I would suggest spending some of your words explaining holistically what you were up to with your overall design.

We're excited to see what you come up with.


That was what we sent out to our eight contestants. Their tribal selection was first come, first served. Here's how it went. Ari was the first to reply, choosing Insects. Jeremy was second with Rogues. Ryan was third with Imps. Linus was fourth with Aetherborn. Chris was fifth with Oozes. Alex was sixth with Horrors. Scott was seventh with Samurai. And that's all the requests I got on Thursday, the day I sent the challenge to the designers. Then late Saturday afternoon (the challenge was due Sunday night), I got a message from Jay. He decided instead of quickly picking a choice, he would spend time working with different options knowing that he would be doing some work that got thrown away. On Saturday, he chose Oozes. I told him that was already taken, so he went with his back-up, Shaman. And with that, all eight of our designers had their tribes to work with.

As a reminder, the judges for Challenge #1 were Erik Lauer in blue, Melissa DeTora in red, Eli Shiffrin in purple, and Mark Rosewater (me!) in green. Our guest judge was Alexis Janson in yellow; I'll let her introduce herself.

Hello everyone, I'm Alexis Janson. If you're reading this, you probably know me best as the winner of the first Great Designer Search. Since then, I've terrorized Standard by designing Reveillark and Wurmcoil Engine. I defied the odds to be the first non-R&D member to lead the design of a modern set with Dragon's Maze. I brought Humility to Magic: The Gathering Online by rewriting the entire layering subsystem. I helped build the amazing engineering team working hard to bring you Magic: The Gathering Arena. And now, I have the honor of participating in all three Great Designer Searches by being your guest judge today. I'll be looking for great designers who balance nuts-and-bolts design with innovative new veins of design space and elegant flavor. Most importantly, though, I'll be asking myself a simple and emotional question: "Would this make Magic more fun?"

With that out of the way, let's get on with today's judging. You'll be able to see each candidate's cards and the judges' comments by clicking the links below. At the end of each page, before the judge's overview, you'll being able to learn whether or not that candidate advances. If they're safe, it will say "CONTINUE PLAYING." If they're eliminated, it will say "GAME OVER."

Now that the judges have reviewed all the cards from Challenge #1 (and eliminated one contestant from the Top 8), it's time to introduce the next challenge our remaining contestants will face.

Design Challenge #2 – "A Circus Act"

For the next challenge, we're going to do some top-down design. Here's how it's going to work. We're designing Bigtopia (just the codename), the circus plane. Here's your assignment:

  1. You're going to design eight cards from the 25 card names below. You must use the card names exactly, no tweaking (with one exception listed below).

  2. Your cards must mechanically capture the flavor of their title.

  3. You must design two cards of each rarity (common, uncommon, rare, and mythic rare).

  4. You may have no more than three cards be of the same card type.

  5. You must use each color at least once.

  6. You must make at least one legendary card. For legendary cards, and only legendry cards, you may slightly tweak the name to make it sound legendary.

  7. For named keyword mechanics, you are allowed access to all evergreen mechanics and up to one non-evergeen mechanics (keywords and/or ability words). Note that there is no requirement to use named mechanics. Please do not create any new named keyword mechanics.

Card Names:

Acrobatics
Circus Peanuts
Circus Tent
Clown Car
Contortionist
Feats of Strength
Fire Eating
Flaming Hoop
Human Cannonball
Juggling
Knife Thrower
Lion Tamer
Magician
Plate Spinning
Ringmaster
Seltzer Bottle
Stilts
Sword Swallowing
Three Rings
Tightrope
Trained Elephant
Traveling Circus
Trick Riding
Trapeze Artist
Unicycle

Here's what the judges will be looking for:

Mechanical Flavor – This assignment is about designing cards to mechanically capture their flavor. The judges will be looking at how the gameplay of the cards reinforces what they represent.

Fun Gameplay – These cards can't just be fun to read, they have to be fun to play. You will have to balance how flavorful they are with how fun they are when you use them.

Set Feel – These cards are all from the same set. The designs need to reflect that.

Card Choices – This is the first challenge where we're giving you the ability to pick which components to design to. What you pick and how it works together will be judged.

Originality – While doing your top-down design, we still want you to show off new and exciting components.

Color Pie Appropriateness – Your color choice needs to be appropriate to your flavor as well as your mechanical designs. Bends are allowed if appropriate (although be frugal with them), but breaks are not.

Rarity Appropriateness – Your designs need to fit into the rarity you're designing for. One of the difficulties of this challenge is being flavorful within the constraints of each rarity.

Card Type Appropriateness – Make sure that your cards are properly representing the card type they're in. Note to be careful with cards that are mimicking other card types (for example, instants or sorceries that only create tokens).

You will need to submit the following:

Your Name

Design 1 (YOUR FIRST COMMON)
Design 2 (YOUR SECOND COMMON)
Design 3 (YOUR FIRST UNCOMMON)
Design 4 (YOUR SECOND UNCOMMON)
Design 5 (YOUR FIRST RARE)
Design 6 (YOUR SECOND RARE)
Design 7 (YOUR FIRST MYTHIC RARE)
Design 8 (YOUR SECOND MYTHIC RARE)

Comments: You will have up to 250 words to say whatever you want about your design. You are free to talk about individual cards, but I would suggest spending some of your words explaining holistically what you were up to with your overall design.

We're curious to see what you do to fill up Bigtopia!

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