Great Designer Search 3 – Final Day

Posted in Feature on June 12, 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.

After three trials and five design challenges, we had narrowed down over 3,000 candidates to three. Ari Nieh, Chris Mooney, and Jeremy Geist all traveled to Renton, Washington, for one final day of the Great Designer Search 3. By day's end, a winner would be crowned.

A Look Back

Before we jump into the rundown of the day, I want to talk a little bit about how they ranked coming into the final day.

Here's how the Top 8 ranked based on their design tests:

  1. Jay Treat
  2. Ari Nieh
  3. Jeremy Geist
  4. Scott Wilson
  5. Chris Mooney
  6. Linus Ulysses Hamilton
  7. Ryan Siegel-Stechler
  8. Alex Werner

The first design challenge was a tribal challenge. Here's how the designers did as ranked by the judges:

  1. Jeremy Geist
  2. Ari Nieh
  3. Chris Mooney
  4. Linus Ulysses Hamilton
  5. Jay Treat
  6. Scott Wilson
  7. Alex Werner
  8. Ryan Siegel-Stechler

Our final three are the top three on this challenge, with Jeremy winning. Alex and Ryan again ranked the lowest, and as elimination was based on all the designs they'd done to that point, the deliberation on who to cut was between Alex and Ryan. The judges spent a lot of time talking this through and ultimately decided to cut Alex.

The second design challenge was a top-down challenge asking the designers to create eight cards based on circus tropes. Here's how the designers did on the challenge as ranked by the judges:

  1. Scott Wilson
  2. Jeremy Geist
  3. Ryan Siegel-Stechler
  4. Chris Mooney
  5. Jay Treat
  6. Ari Nieh
  7. Linus Ulysses Hamilton

Scott won with Jeremy coming in second. Ryan, who walked into this week at the bottom, had his first top-three finish. Linus had a bad week and was the clear choice to be cut by the judges (as the other people who did poorly had stronger previous submissions).

The third design challenge was the mechanics challenge where the designers were asked to make a new mechanic. Here's how they did based on the ranking by the judges:

  1. Ryan Siegel-Stechler
  2. Chris Mooney
  3. Ari Nieh
  4. Scott Wilson
  5. Jay Treat
  6. Jeremy Geist

Ryan followed up his first top-three finish with a win. Chris and Ari also managed to make the top three. Jeremy had his worst finish but was safe for the week due to the strength of his previous work. Jay ended up being cut by the judges.

The fourth design challenge forced the designers to design to heavy restrictions, including incorporating art. Here's how they did based on the ranking by the judges:

  1. Ari Nieh
  2. Jeremy Geist
  3. Chris Mooney
  4. Scott Wilson
  5. Ryan Siegel-Stechler

The top three again foreshadowed the final three, with Ari winning his first challenge. The elimination led to fierce debate among the judges between Scott and Ryan. In the end, the judges chose to cut Ryan.

The fifth design challenge required the designers to pick a Magic expansion and design a brand-new booster pack's worth of cards for it. Here's how they did based on the ranking by the judges:

  1. Ari Nieh
  2. Jeremy Geist
  3. Chris Mooney
  4. Scott Wilson

For the only time in the competition, the designers had the exact same rankings two weeks in a row. Ari became the first designer to win two challenges. Scott, who had come into the last challenge trailing, wasn't able to surpass the other designers and was eliminated, leaving a final three of Ari, Jeremy, and Chris.

Coming into the Top 3, here's how each contestant had fared:

  • Ari: Two wins, two seconds, and a third
  • Jeremy: One win, three seconds, and a third
  • Chris: One second and three thirds
alt text
From left: Mark Rosewater, Ari Nieh, Jeremy Geist, and Chris Mooney

As Ari had more wins and they happened later in the event after the challenges had gotten harder and there had been more weight placed onto the contestants' ability to listen to feedback, he walked into the final day in first place. Jeremy was a close second and Chris a bit more distant third. That is where we were at as the final day began.

The Final Day

The day began at 9:00 am with a personal tour of the Wizards offices led by me. Wizards has never given public tours and we stopped private tours over a year ago, so this was a special exception. I can't talk about what they saw, but I can say they enjoyed the tour.

Starting at 9:30 we began an event we call the Gauntlet where we set up three rooms each with four R&D members. Each of the designers would sit and talk with each room for an hour, rotating between the three rooms. Here's who they talked to:

Room #1 (The Judges)

  • Mark Rosewater
  • Erik Lauer
  • Melissa DeTora
  • Eli Shiffrin

Room #2 (The Managers)

  • Mark Gottlieb
  • Bryan Hawley
  • Ben Hayes
  • Max McCall

Room #3 (The Bosses)

  • Aaron Forsythe
  • Jessica Lanzillo
  • Ken Troop
  • Mark Globus

We asked each of the R&D folks to rate the designers based on their talk. All three candidates got good marks, but Chris ended up getting the highest marks with Ari coming in second and Jeremy coming in third.

After the Gauntlet, it was time for lunch. Normally on Tuesdays we do something called "Magic for Lunch" where we bring in food and play with the latest set over lunch. We thought it would be fun for the designers to experience this, so they joined us for Greek food and Dominaria. I believe Ari, Chris, and Jeremy all had fun, but overall had a losing record against members of R&D.

After lunch, at 2:00 pm, it was time for the final design challenge. The designers had been given three and a half days to complete all previous challenges. This final challenge would be just 2 hours long. Here's the challenge I gave them:

We're late in Dark Ascension's development. Tomorrow, the set goes to the printer.

Everything seems good when at the last minute one of the developers approaches. They've found a broken deck built around the card Séance. The card needs to mechanically change. When Brand hears about this, they bring up that they've always felt uncomfortable about calling a card "Séance," so, since it's changing anyway, they'd like the card to change names.

We don't have a lot of time, so here's what we need. We want a new rare white card using the same art, but with a new name. Due to collector numbering, the new card needs to be alphabetically between Sanctuary Cat and Silverclaw Griffin. The card can be any card type as long as it matches the flavor of the name and mechanics. It still needs to be rare. Plus, as we have no time to playtest it, it shouldn't be pushing into risky developmental space.

You will have until 3:00 pm to design three cards meeting the criteria above. Your cards must have all their rules text and a card title. Each card should have unique mechanics and a unique name. Don't worry about flavor text. We will then meet with all the GDS3 designers and some of R&D for an hour to decide together which card to put into the file.

Here is the art:

Each designer was given a dictionary, a Dark Ascension file, a notebook, and a pen. They were each taken to a small private area to work. At the end of the hour, we collected them and brought them into a meeting room with all the judges (Erik Lauer, Melissa DeTora, Eli Shiffrin, Mark Gottlieb, and myself) where we spent an hour hashing out their designs.

Here are the designs each one turned over at the beginning of the meeting (with the templates cleaned up by Eli) along with the judges' notes.


Saving Grace
At the beginning of combat on each opponent's turn, that player may pay X, where X is the number of Humans you control. If they don't, creatures they control can't attack you this combat.

First, we made the ruling that they could use any name not yet used at the time of Dark Ascension, so although "Saving Grace" would later get used in Hour of Devastation, it was ruled as a viable name for the challenge. The biggest concern with this card was a creative one. In Dark Ascension, the humans are about to be wiped out by the monsters. Is it okay to have a pro-Human card mechanically? We brought a representative of the creative team into the meeting (Cynthia Sheppard) and she explained that as long as it was defensive, showing the Humans banding together to survive, it should be okay. This card was marked as a possibility.

Shift the Veil
Return to the battlefield all creature cards in your graveyard that were put there from the battlefield this turn. You gain 2 life for each card returned this way.

This card was deemed a little too close to Archangel's Light. Also, Melissa felt this wasn't the kind of card we wanted to add without any testing. This card was eliminated.

Seal Against the Damned
When Seal Against the Damned enters the battlefield, choose a creature type other than Human.
Tap five untapped creatures you control: Exile target creature of the chosen type.

We liked how the mechanics matched the art, but felt the gameplay wasn't great. First, having five creatures in play is a pretty big hoop to have to jump through. Second, you had to lock in the creature type before you had the ability to get rid of it, meaning a bigger threat will often come out before you get your five creatures, and you won't be able to deal with it. This card was eliminated.


Secret Gathering
Tap five untapped non-Spirit creatures you control: Create a 1/1 white Spirit creature token with flying.

Of the five other rares, three made tokens, two of which specifically made 1/1 tokens. This card just seemed too similar to them. This card was eliminated.

Seclusion Ritual
Player can't cast creature spells with the same name as a creature card in a graveyard.

This was another card Melissa was worried about making without any testing. Also, uncommon had Curse of Exhaustion, which prevented cards from getting cast, and we tend not to do two of them in the same set without a thematic reason. This card was eliminated.

Seekers of Guidance
Creature — Human Cleric
2, Exile a creature card from your graveyard: Seekers of Guidance gains protection from the color of your choice until end of turn.

The team liked this card, but felt it was a little weak. It didn't feel enough like a rare.


Sidereal Visions
Search your library for a Human or Spirit card, reveal it, put it into your hand, then shuffle your library.

The team liked this design (especially how it connected Humans and Spirits), but felt strongly that a tutor was a bad thing to add in at the last minute without any testing. This card was eliminated.

Shut Away
When Shut Away enters the battlefield, exile target creature and all cards from its owner's graveyard until Shut Away leaves the battlefield.

The team liked this design. They felt it was a nice answer to flashback. The concern with it was the confusion that would come about from exiling two different things.

Sequestered Geist
Creature — Spirit
As an additional cost to cast this spell, you may tap any number of untapped Humans you control. This spell costs {1} less to cast for each Human tapped this way.

Rare already had Requiem Angel, which was a big flying creature. The team felt that this design would step a little too much on that card. Also, the spirit in the art didn't really convey 6/6. This card was eliminated.

After our first elimination pass, we were left with three cards, interestingly one from each designer. We took a second look at each card, talking about how we could tweak it to help it fit the slot. (Altered text is in red.)

Saving Grace
At the beginning of combat on each opponent's turn, that player may pay X, where X is the number of Humans you control. If they don't, creatures they control can't attack you or planeswalkers you control this combat.

The one change we made to this card was to protect not just you but also your planeswalkers if your opponent couldn't pay to attack.

Servants of Niblis
Creature — Human Cleric
2, Exile a creature card from your graveyard: Servants of Niblis gains protection from the color of your choice until end of turn.

To beef this up a little, we changed it from a 3/3 to a 4/4 and added lifelink. There was also worry that the name was a little weak, so we changed it as well.

Exile all instants and sorceries from target player's graveyard and up to one creature or planeswalker that player controls.

To help with the confusion issue, we changed the card so the two things it took were different from one another. As the graveyard part was meant to deal with flashback, we changed it to just exile instants and sorceries. We also put that effect first so it wasn't dependent on the opponent having a creature to get rid of the cards in their graveyard. We expanded the effect to exile either a creature or a planeswalker. We also changed the cost from 3WW to 3W. Finally, we gave it a new name, borrowing "Sequester" from one of Jeremy's other cards.

The team then talked through the final three cards. We eliminated Servants of Niblis because four of the five other white rares were creatures or made creatures. We eliminated Saving Grace as it seemed mechanically a little too narrow and we still questioned whether it hit the right tone for the set. Sequester was the winner.

The judges then met to talk over the last design challenge and pick a final winner. Looking at all the various components of the final challenge (primarily their card designs and their comments in the meeting), we chose Jeremy as the winner of the challenge with Ari coming in second and Chris coming in third.

Picking the Great Designer

We started the meeting by agreeing that we were all very happy with all three of our choices. They had all impressed us in both the Gauntlet and the final design challenge, but in the end, only one could be crowned the winner of the Great Designer Search 3. We talked about how Chris had really shined in the Gauntlet, but hadn't closed enough ground to pass either Ari or Jeremy in the overall competition.

It came down to a choice between Ari and Jeremy. We went back and forth and talked about the strengths of each designer. We walked through all their work. In the end, we decided that while Jeremy had done a good job on the final day, he hadn't quite caught up to Ari, who, as I said above, entered the final day with a slight lead. That meant the winner of the Great Designer Search 3 was . . . Ari!

Congratulations, Ari!

alt text
Ari Nieh poses with a foil rare sheet of Dominaria cards signed by the GDS3 crew.

Before I wrap up for today, I'd like to thank four groups of people.

One, I want to thank everyone who took the time to enter the Great Designer Search 3. I was not only blown away by how many people entered, but by the quality of their work.

Two, I would like to thank our Top 8 (Ari, Jeremy, Chris, Scott, Ryan, Jay, Linus, and Alex). I'm not sure the audience realizes exactly how hard the challenges we gave you were, but I do. You guys stepped up and did amazing work under very stressful and tight conditions. In my mind, you all are great designers!

Three, the Great Designer 3 could not have happened without a huge amount of work from a large group of people. Thank you to everyone behind the scenes who made this happen. A special callout goes to Stephanie Mitchell, our producer, who was given this task her first week on the job with no idea what she was getting into. Thank you everyone for all of your hard work! (The full credits for everyone who worked on the show is below.)

Four, I want to thank all of you, our audience, for following along. Factors outside of our control made the show a little more compact than we intended, but I'm happy so many people watched the show and commented on social media.

Well, that's a wrap for the Great Designer Search 3. To answer the question I know I'll get asked, yes, I expect there to be a Great Designer Search 4, but not until we forget how much work this one was.

Bye-bye, and thanks for watching!



Alex Werner
Ari Nieh
Chris Mooney
Jay Treat
Jeremy Geist
Linus Ulysses Hamilton
Ryan Siegel-Stechler
Scott Wilson


Mark Rosewater
Erik Lauer
Melissa DeTora
Eli Shiffrin
Mark Gottlieb (behind the scenes)

Guest Judges:

Episode 1 (Design Test) – Ethan Fleischer
Episode 2 (Challenge 1) – Alexis Janson
Episode 3 (Challenge 2) – Aaron Forsythe
Episode 4 (Challenge 3) – Jules Robins
Episode 5 (Challenge 4) – Jenna Helland
Episode 6 (Challenge 5) – Ken Nagle


Stephanie Mitchell


Kayla Page


James Kooi
Chris Gleeson
Blake Rasmussen


Trick Jarrett

Graphic Design:

Adam Willson
Daniel Holt

Additional Contributions:

Josh Dillard
Ryan McCarthy
Kim Lundstrom
James Arnold
Tom Jenkot
Marisa Fulmer
Matthew Danner
Robin Stewart
Ken Troop
Donna Woodcock
Gregg Luben
Lukas Litzsinger
Del Laugel
Mons Johnson
Zach Francks
Robert Schuster
Gavin Verhey
Sam Stoddard
Bryan Hawley
Corey Hawley
Alli Medwin
David Humpherys
Adam Prosak
Scott Van Essen
Ben Hayes
Yoni Skolnik
Andrew Veen
Glenn Jones
Mike Turian
Ian Duke
Tom Ross
Mark Globus
Matt Tabak

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