Great Designer Search 3 – Challenge #2

Posted in Feature on May 22, 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 and welcome back to the Great Designer Search 3.

Last time we had our first design challenge, judged it, and then eliminated our first contestant (Alex Werner). We also gave our designers their second design challenge. Let's review it and then see how they fared.


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!


The seven designers had 25 names to choose from. Interestingly, 23 of the 25 were used. Here's how it broke down:

Used by all seven designers:

  • Magician

Used by five designers:

  • Feats of Strength
  • Ringmaster

Used by four designers:

  • Acrobatics
  • Traveling Circus
  • Unicycle

Used by three designers:

  • Clown Car
  • Knife Thrower
  • Tightrope
  • Trapeze Artist

Used by two designers:

  • Lion Tamer
  • Trained Elephant

Used by one designer:

  • Circus Peanuts
  • Circus Tent
  • Fire Eating
  • Flaming Hoop
  • Human Cannonball
  • Juggling
  • Plate Spinning
  • Seltzer Bottle
  • Stilts
  • Three Rings
  • Trick Riding

Used by no designers:

  • Contortionist
  • Sword Swallowing

Our guest judge today is Aaron Forsythe. I'll let him introduce himself.

Hey there, folks. I'm Aaron Forsythe, senior design director for Magic R&D. My job mostly involves oversight for the excellent work the Rosewaters and Lauers of the world do, but I have been getting more "hands-on" with design recently, participating on the Vision Design team for Dominaria and the Set Design team for the forthcoming Core Set 2019.

Have I ever told you how much I love core sets? In fact, it was my vision for Magic 2010 many years ago that got R&D to embrace the concept of top-down design more than ever before, and I'm pleased that we've made the creation of fun, flavorful cards a priority ever since.

I am a sucker for great top-down cards, but the play test is just as important as the eyeball test, and probably more so! It's easy to fall into the trap of making a card that is merely fun to read with little regard for playability. I have a term for those: "web-comic" cards. If the most joy anyone will get from your design is reading it for the first time on the internet, you've made a web comic. I don't want those; I want designs that are enticing to read but ultimately spur you to want to brew, draft, or play with them. The best top-down cards manifest themselves in-game with the flavor the design intends.

As for how I'll be judging work—I'll admit to being fickle. My personal philosophy for what makes a good card, mechanic, or set is constantly evolving, and I treat it as equal parts art and science. I can be talked into hating something I wanted to like, and I can have my mind changed quickly in one way or another after a single playtest. Little things matter a lot to me—the position of individual words, the stats on a creature trying to capture a concept, what kind of mood I'm in that day. I'll want to change something one day and change it back the next, but in the end, that data and iteration will get us to the best set of cards. So, I'll apologize in advance for not liking everything. If this was the workplace environment, you'd get a chance to argue your case or tinker with your design before resubmitting it, but here it's just going to be how things hit me after a couple reads. Best of luck to you all!

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."

One last thing before we begin. Every week, the judges get together to discuss all the cards, pick the top three, and discuss who needs to be eliminated (the latter is based on all their work and not just the most recent challenge). To do this, we have every judge bring a list of how they graded the latest challenge from best to worst. This week had the most divergence that I've ever seen in a GDS judge meeting. Top-down design is a tricky thing, and there's a lot of subjectivity. This is why you might see more variance in the judging this week; one judge will love something and another judge won't like it at all.

Lets take a look at the designs!

With the judging out of the way, it's time to introduce our third design challenge!

Design Challenge #3 – "Finding a Good Mechanic"

For the design test and the first two challenges, we didn't let you design any new mechanics. This design challenge is all about designing a new mechanic. Here's your assignment:

  1. You are going to design a brand-new keyword mechanic or ability word.

  2. You will have to name it and figure out its rules text and reminder text. Note it's more important that our judges can understand what it's supposed to do than its templating be 100% technically accurate.

  3. You will have to design three commons, two uncommons, two rares, and one mythic rare.

  4. You must use at least three colors.

  5. No more than two of your cards may be multicolored.

  6. Assume all the cards you are designing are in the same Standard-legal expansion.

  7. Other than your new mechanic, you may use only evergreen mechanics.

Breadth of Mechanic – The point of this design challenge is proving you can make a mechanic that would have value in a set. A big part of that is flexibility. Demonstrate that this mechanic has enough breadth that it's worth keywording/ability wording. Note that this doesn't mean it has to go on multiple card types; it means that there is a variety of ways it can be used.

Backward Compatibility – How does your mechanic play into the overall latticework of the larger game? Is this something players can add to existing decks? Is it something that will do interesting things when blended with other mechanics in larger formats? The more parasitic your mechanic, the higher the barrier of fun is going to be.

Inspiring New Decks – One of the things good mechanics do is inspire players to create new decks. This doesn't mean this mechanic has to be a build-around mechanic, but it does need to introduce something new to the game that can be combined with in novel ways.

Fun in Density – Your new mechanic needs to be fun to play, but more than that it needs to justify having a keyword/ability word. Your mechanic needs to want to exist in volume.

Limited Applications – We're asking you to create a mechanic that can show up at common, which means it has to be something that would be fun to play in Limited. It is acceptable if its role in Limited and Constructed are different.

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

Originality – You're not just showing off your mechanic, you're showing off your individual card designs. We want to see some innovation involving your new mechanic.

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. This design is asking for more commons than past designs because appropriateness for common of a new mechanic is key to it working well.

Card Type Appropriateness – Make sure that your cards are properly representing the card type they're in.

You will need to submit the following:

Your Name

Design 1 (YOUR FIRST COMMON)
Design 2 (YOUR SECOND COMMON)
Design 3 (YOUR THIRD COMMON)
Design 4 (YOUR FIRST UNCOMMON)
Design 5 (YOUR SECOND UNCOMMON)
Design 6 (YOUR FIRST RARE)
Design 7 (YOUR SECOND RARE)
Design 8 (YOUR 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 hoping you find a great mechanic.

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