Great Designer Search 3 – Challenge #5

Posted in Feature on May 31, 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 judged our fourth design challenge and then eliminated our fourth contestant (Ryan Siegel-Stechler). We also gave our designers their fifth design challenge. Let's review it and then we'll see how they fared.

Design Challenge #5 – "Pack and Play"

One of the most important skills for a Magic designer is to design cards for a set that's already defined. So, for this week, we're going to do just that. Here's the assignment:

  1. Choose any black-bordered Magic expansion with a fifteen-card booster pack. This will be first come, first served and once an expansion is chosen, all other expansions from that block will be off limits (If, for example, you choose original Ravnica, it, Guildpact, and Dissension will no longer be viable choices.)

  2. Design fifteen new cards (fourteen if there's a basic land) that feel as if they belong to that expansion. Note this means you will only be able to use keywords or ability words found in that expansion (and you will be limited to evergreen mechanics that existed in that set).

  3. The cards will have to match the rarity mix that one would find in an average pack of that set. If there are slots with variable rarity, you may choose any of those rarities. (The double-faced card in Shadows over Innistrad, for example, could be common, uncommon, rare, or mythic rare.)

  4. To match our collation, there must be at least one common of every color. Also, don't make more than five cards of the same color combination. (You can't have more than five mono-green cards or five blue-red cards.) The one exception is colorless cards if you have chosen a set that has a high as-fan of colorless cards.

  5. Be aware that the fifteenth card in most sets will be a basic land.

  6. Your booster pack should not have any premium foil cards in it.

  7. If your set has some quirk about it that contradicts one of the above rules, talk with me about it.

Your cards will be judged on the following criteria:

Matching Expansion – This design challenge is about designing within constraints of a defined set. You will be judged by how much your cards feel as if they belong in the expansion you've chosen.

Creativity – This assignment is not just about mimicking the set you're in but finding cool new things to do with the preexisting tools of that set.

Flavor – It's important that your cards feel and play as if they are from the world that expansion is set on.

Color Pie Appropriateness – This, and the next two categories, are the areas where I'm going to let you deviate from the original expansion. Use the modern color pie and not the color pie at the time of the set. Any mechanic that was used may be used in the colors it was used in that set. As always, matching color means staying within the color pie constraints. 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. Think about things like complexity and impact on Limited. As with color pie, use modern-day rarity constraints.

Card Type Appropriateness – Make sure that your cards are properly representing the card type they're in. As with color pie and rarity, use modern-day constraints.

You will submit the following:

Your Name

Label each card Design 1 through 15. Put any basic land first, then your commons in WUBRG order, then your uncommons in WUBRG order, then your rares (and/or mythic rare if mythic rares exist in this set) and finally any extra card(s) if your set has a special slot(s).

We're excited to open your booster packs!


Challenge #5 is all about designing within the context of an established set. For most of design, we know what the set's about and it's up to the designers to design cards that fit in that set. This challenge duplicates this feel by having designers design within a known set of parameters.

The challenge was a first come, first served challenge, meaning that the designers had to think quickly about what expansion they wanted to work with. Here's how it played out (all times are Pacific Standard Time):

11:00 a.m. – I send out the design challenge to the four designers.
11:11 a.m. – Jeremy writes back. He says he would like to do Khans of Tarkir. I tell him the set is his.
11:49 a.m. – Ari writes back with a list of three sets in order: (I let the designers send me up to three choices) 1) Scars of Mirrodin, 2) Kaladesh, 3) Khans of Tarkir. I tell Ari Scars of Mirrodin is his.
12:02 p.m. – Scott writes back asking for New Phyrexia. I write back telling him the block had already been selected (as Ari had chosen Scars of Mirrodin and the rules said a whole block was off limits once one set from it was chosen). I tell him he will need to pick a new set.
12:25 p.m. – Scott comes back with Innistrad. I tell him the set is his.
4:08 p.m. – Chris comes back with their three ordered choices: 1) Guildpact, 2) Shadows over Innistrad, 3) Khans of Tarkir. I tell them Guildpact is theirs.

When the dust settled, these were the selections:

  • Ari Scars of Mirrodin
  • ChrisGuildpact
  • JeremyKhans of Tarkir
  • ScottInnistrad

Our guest job this week is a designer with an encyclopedic knowledge of past sets as well as Great Designer Search experience—Ken Nagle! I'll let Ken introduce himself.

Salutations, I'm Ken Nagle and I've been a game designer at Wizards of the Coast since January 15, 2007, after participating in the first Great Design Search. It's now eleven years later and I've lead the design Magic sets like Fate Reforged, Return to Ravnica, New Phyrexia, Eldritch Moon, and Ixalan (foreshadowing this challenge's boosters) as well as the first Commander product and the next one, Commander (2018 Edition). I'm leading the design of the newly announced Transformers Trading Card Game. More appropriately for this challenge, I've been on many teams making Magic cards to fit right into an already established design, mechanic, theme, role, or even returning set. That's why I'm guest judging this challenge—it's an important skill in Magic R&D to be able contribute to another's vision.

Before we jump into the judging, I want to make a quick comment on this week's challenge. Designing to an existing set can be challenging because sets have a lot of internal rules, some of which might not be obvious at first glance (I talk about many of them in my articles, but not all of them). Erik, Melissa, Ken and I worked on numerous of these sets, three of which I led, so we're going to be able to find very specific mistakes that, to be quite honest, would have been hard for the designers to pick up. Just keep that in mind.

With that said, click each name below to see what our contestants submitted—and learn who is moving on to the Top 3 and coming to Wizards HQ for the final showdown!

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