Great Designer Search 3 Finalist – Alex Werner

Posted in Feature on March 9, 2018

By Wizards of the Coast

Trial 2

Scored 73/75

Trial 3

Judges

Eli Shiffrin

Erik Lauer

Melissa DeTora

Guest judge Ethan Fleischer

Mark Rosewater

Design 1

Evolution From Below (rare)
BG
Instant
Choose target creature an opponent controls. Its controller may sacrifice it. If he or she does not, search your library for a creature card with the same or less converted mana cost, put it on the battlefield, then shuffle your library.

This has an interesting design space, but searching the entire library is not the correct reward; there is going to be a best "three mana or less" creature for a particular matchup, and once that is known, this is a lot less fun. Letting the player choose any permanent from a portion of the top of the deck (say the top seven cards) will result in a superior replayability.

Interesting punisher card, and looks fun. Like Erik, I have a concern in how often the player is searching for the same creature every time. A card like this can lead to repetitive play patterns.

This is a cool, novel design. It does a good job of combining a black thing (a removal spell) and a green thing (searching your library for a creature) into a cohesive design. This feels like an appropriate rare card, given its swinginess and weirdness. However, I'm a bit concerned about this card, as it is what we call a "punisher" card, one where the opponent chooses which bad thing will happen to them. I suspect that much will depend on whether the opponent is holding removal.

This design is interesting in that it does something I really enjoy on multicolor cards: it finds two abilities, one in each color, that thematically connect. Black can move creatures from the battlefield to the graveyard while green can move creatures from the library to the battlefield. Giving the opponent a choice between the two allows the caster to gain "creature advantage" but in a way that has enough variance to both make it unpredictable and allow strategic thinking. You also did a good job of figuring how to functionally make the ability work and were smart enough to put the restriction on the creature fetching. I agree with Erik and Melissa though that this card is going to have some replayability issues. I'd also suggest limiting the searching to some number of cards off the top of the library. Other than that, I'm a fan of this card.

Design 2

Naila and Hrun, Fused (mythic rare)
2GGWW
Planeswalker — Naila-and-Hrun
2
+2: Find the lowest number greater than zero such that you control no creatures with that power. Create a green and white elemental creature token with power and toughness equal to that number. Then repeat this process.
-X: You may choose a Naila planeswalker card and a Hrun planeswalker card you own from outside the game. If you choose both, and their combined converted mana cost is X or less, put them onto the battlefield, then sacrifice CARDNAME.

One challenge of designing Magic cards is when you hit a cool idea, but when you write it out, it just doesn't sound like Magic card text. Do you scrap the idea or try to carry on and risk having to throw it out late in the set's life? This isn't really a rules issue—the process you described for Naila and Hrun's first ability works just fine in the rules—but the editors and I would have to discuss how to write out this effect so that it fits the stylistic voice of cards and still works within the rules. For this card, I'm doubtful there's a happy solution.

Since I don't know what Naila or Hrun does or costs, this feels more like a brainstorm than a card design.

I had to read the +2 about three times and still don't understand what kinds of tokens I'm making. Hugely complex and mathy. This design does not stand on its own, I need to know what the other planeswalkers do before I can understand this card. The -X is also bizarre, as sometimes it does not work if I don't spend enough loyalty.

The first ability is quite a tangle to unravel, and looks very powerful for a plus ability on a planeswalker. I suspect that the minus ability will feel bad to many players: their mythic rare doesn't work properly unless they get two more mythic rares. It's a cool concept, though.

This card has two parts and each part has a different problem. The first ability is cool in concept. I like what it's trying to do. I just don't believe there's a way to do it that would both allow the player to understand it and the rules to properly parse it (essentially what Eli is saying above). It's hard to abandon cool ideas when you don't have the tools to convey them properly, but part of good design is creating things that can be made in a way that players can understand. There's an argument that maybe it could be done (although like Eli, I'm skeptical), but you didn't do it here. The second ability is an example of pushing boundaries without fully thinking through the ramifications. Planeswalkers are mythic rare cards—those are hard to get. To maximally use this card, you need to collect two other mythic rare cards. That's a big ask. On top of that, it's a bit of a cop out (especially for a design test). "Look at this cool card that does cool things . . . on other cards . . . that I'm not showing you." I like the idea of a planeswalker that's a pair of Planeswalkers working together, but then you just revert them to being two different planeswalker cards. You tap into a cool concept and then abandon exploring it. Finally, we tend to reuse our planeswalker characters. This design puts a huge restriction on any future version of either character.

Design 3

Swiftblade Pikeman (common)
RW
Creature — Human Soldier
3/1
CARDNAME enters the battlefield with a blade counter on it.
Remove a blade counter from CARDNAME: CARDNAME gains first strike until end of turn.

This is an interesting design. However, it puts a lot of tension on your opponent; should your opponent trade a little creature for the blade counter? In many games, your opponent should never give you an opportunity to make use of the counter. This is more challenging than we would want from most commons. This would be a fine uncommon. Alternatively, this could be a red-green creature, where the counter gave trample until end of turn.

Good idea, a one-shot keyword looks fun for Limited. However, I am not a fan of this execution. One thing to be careful about with commons is how often they lead to gotcha moments. This creature sits there as an on-board trick and with no mana in the activation cost it can be easy to forget this is there. This can ambush an attacker due to first strike. For cards like this, I would avoid first strike and go with abilities where you can't win combat for free, like trample.

This card does some work in solving the problem of a couple of first strikers indefinitely holding off your opponent's attackers. The power level and complexity look appropriate for a common gold card.

My issue with this card is a little different from the other judges. I think it's making too big of a commitment from the set it's in. We tend to choose one counter to put on creatures in a set so that players can glance at the battlefield and know what the size of a creature is. Here you're choosing blade counters (the name tells me that you were thinking of this as a one of and not a set thing—we occasionally do that at rare/mythic rare, but never at common). That means you don't get to use +1/+1 counters. That's a big concession. This card tells me that you were designing in a bubble and not thinking about all of the ramifications of decisions you were making with it. That's a dangerous trait and something you're going to need to be more conscious off in your designs, especially at common.

Design 4

Zyym, Mesmeric Lord (mythic rare)
1UBB
Legendary Creature — Vampire Wizard
3/4
Flying, deathtouch
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, target opponent chooses an order for the cards in his or her hand, then reveals them one by one, until you say stop. That player then discards the most recently revealed card.

To contrast this to Naila and Hrun, Zymm's design is pretty easy to make words for:

When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, choose target opponent. That player reveals a card in his or her hand not revealed this way. You may have that player discard that card. If you don't, you and that opponent repeat this process.

This is novel, and very interesting. But let's say I (your opponent) have six cards in hand, with five different card names (one is repeated). Then I have 360 permutations to choose from; this might take a while! Mythic rare is very appropriate.

Interesting way to do a discard effect. This rate looks too strong. It's a value creature, since you are always forcing the opponent to lose at least one card, and the body looks difficult to deal with. When making creatures that two-for-one, you don't need to go crazy with stats and keywords. I don't think this needs deathtouch. Another thing to keep in mind is thinking about how long it takes triggers to resolve. In this case, the opponent has to do a lot of work. First, rearrange cards, then begin revealing. It sounds like it will take an unreasonable amount of time for tournament Magic. This effect is cool, but since it is on such a strong rate creature, this will see a lot of tournament play. It's not the type of card that will be fun for opponents to play against many times in a game.

I also agree that this card looks like it would be very difficult for players to execute in a tournament setting. The opponent needs to think about things each time a card is revealed, but can't say "stop" without triggering the discard. Now they have to say "wait" or something? This doesn't look fun to me. I generally prefer to make legendary creatures into build-around designs for Commander players. The deck this tells me to build (put all of the Telepathy effects into a deck) doesn't sound like very much fun.

I enjoy when cards create mini-games and this seems like a fun one, the first few times you play it. I agree with my fellow judges that this would have tournament problems in its current form. I think I would make it a larger, more expensive creature, lessening how often you play this mini-game within any one game. That said, I do enjoy when designers think of ways to make familiar things happen in an unfamiliar matter, so thumbs up for that. I also like that this card's mechanically captures the sense of a psionic Vampire.

Design 5

Goblin Guillotine (rare)
3BR
Sorcery
Destroy target creature. If a creature dies this way, create a token creature with the same colors and creature types as the dead creature. Flip a coin. If it comes up heads, your token is named Head and is a 1/1. Otherwise, your token is named Body and is the same power and toughness as the dead creature, minus one.

When drafting a deck, most people are motivated to try and win the draft. The job of a designer its to make that lead to a fun experience. If someone opens their first pack and finds this card, they are likely to take it, regardless of whether they enjoy strong random effects. If there is someone else at the table who would enjoy the randomness of your card, they aren't likely to have an opportunity to draft it. The most obvious solution to me is to change the casting cost to 5BR. But I would give you a design choice: You can have the weaker random card, where it would frequently go unplayed, but the typical person who chooses to play it would really enjoy random effects, or we could use the design that always creates both the Head and the Body. That would be a pretty strong card in Limited, and drafters would appreciate it, but it would be significant departure from your design.

I have a similar issue with this as I did with your last card. It has a strong rate and is a 2-for-1. Sometimes you will get a giant Body and other times you'll only get a 1/1, but the upside on this is so huge that it's worth playing this at high levels. There are players who do not enjoy such large variance, especially at high levels, but since this card has such a strong rate, those high-level players will want to play this despite the variance. My second issue with this card is the tracking issue. You have to remember how big the creature is, and you can't refer to the card if you forget, because the size is dependent on the coin flip and the creature that died.

The flavor of this card is weird. Why does the creature's head (or body) continue to live, serving me? The Body token being -1/-1 is an overly-fiddly detail, in my opinion. This card is a top-down design, but it doesn't express a resonant concept. The card is appropriately colored and has been assigned an appropriate rarity.

This card seems excessively busy with not enough of a payoff to justify it. I get that you're doing a top-down humorous card, but it didn't work for me. You have two counters that are vastly different, requiring players to have to remember which it is. One of the tokens requires you to reference the original creature's stats (and do math). It's a bit of a mess. I do though like that you made a coin-flipping card that understands the audience that enjoys coin-flipping cards. They like high variance, but, as Erik and Melissa point out above, you need to keep it out of the hands of the tournament players who would dislike playing it. The total package is just a little too messy for my liking.

Design 6

Verdant Ingenuity (uncommon)
1GU
Sorcery
Reveal cards from the top of your library until the revealed cards include at least one land card and at least one non-land card. Put a land card from among them onto the battlefield. Put a non-land card from among them into your hand. Put the other revealed cards on the bottom of your library in any order.

On the surface, this is a good design to get the player a land and a nonland, with some ramp, but the way it is worded, it is much stronger in a deck with few lands. It gives you a ramp spell, and a lot of card selection. Then it lets you order a large part of your deck. That is a lot closer to a Tutor, and does not seem reasonable to me. I would change this to have you get a random land, a random nonland, and put the cards on the bottom of your library in a random order. In older formats, people could still do crazy things (maybe a Vintage deck that tutors for Tolarian Academy, or a Legacy deck with so few spells it frequently finds Life from the Loam), but in Standard it is a good card to test.

A few issues here, including revealing an unbounded amount of cards from your library. For example, an all-spell combo deck or a lands deck in Legacy can reveal nearly the entire deck. Rearranging a large number of cards in your library slows down gameplay and is difficult to resolve. I do like idea of a green-blue draw-two, but the way this does that is problematic.

This is a great design. It ramps your mana and gives you something to do with that mana. I imagine that it would be very satisfying to resolve. This might be a bit warping in Limited at common, so I like putting it at uncommon. I could imagine playtesting revealing it needed to cost four mana, but starting at three seems reasonable to me.

I enjoy this design. Like your first card it has a nice blending of two abilities (land fetching and card draw) into what feels like a singular ability. The only thing I would change is I would put the cards on the bottom of your library in a random order. Usually if the number of cards you have to put on the bottom is more than three or four, we make it random to lessen how long it takes to process the ability. It also solves some of the degeneracy in older formats that Erik and Melissa talk about above.

Design 7

Astral Containment (rare)
2WU
Instant
Choose two target creatures. Exile the first creature until the second creature leaves the battlefield.

This is a great, novel design. While white-blue is the closest color pair, this just seems white to me. I would move this to white and look for another white-blue design.

This is an interesting design, but requires memory of which creature is tied to the exile. Just like Goblin Guillotine, you can't refer back to this card to check which creature the other is tied to. Also, I don't think there is a reason for there to be blue in the casting cost. This looks like a mono-white effect.

One-for-one removal that's this conditional seems like a poor fit for a rare card. Generally, we aim rare removal spells at Constructed, and I don't think that Standard players are likely to be interested in this effect.

I really like this design. It's a cool but relatively simple interaction I haven't seen before. (And after 22 years of designing Magic cards, that's no easy feat.) It requires some memory, but I assume players would just tuck the first creature under the second as a reminder (one of the nice things about exiling it). I also agree with my fellow judges that this is really just a mono-white spell.

Design 8

Requiem for the Profane (uncommon)
WB
Enchantment
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, target opponent loses two life and you gain two life.
Whenever a creature dies, you may return CARDNAME to its owner's hand.

We try to avoid having games where it is quite clear (though not 100%) which player is going to win, but that it will take many turns to complete the game. I imagine a game with a couple creatures on each side, and each player has 10 life. A player casts this and drains for 2. The game has several turns left, yet one player might already feel despair. I would charge 2 mana to return it to your hand, so there are "shields down" moments, and the lower long-term efficiency means the game is less certain.

Huge play pattern concern. This card leads to repetitive gameplay and is hard to interact with. I can't kill this with enchantment removal, as you could have a kill spell or a sac outlet. This card can win the game by itself. It doesn't look fun.

This card feels super Orzhov to me. It incrementally drains the opponent over the course of many turns. This is a win condition that can't be interacted with, so it would require some playtesting resources. I could imagine that it could discourage opponents from casting more fragile creatures in the late game, but that probably isn't a serious problem.

I like what you were trying to do with this design, but I'm not sold on the execution. First off, let's talk color. Black can drain life from players and cares about creatures dying. White doesn't do the first (without being super tied to Orzhov) and seldom does the second. This card could just be mono-black. I get that you're leaning on Orzhov flavor to make it work, but we asked you to design for an unnamed Standard-legal set. Second, you essentially made an enchantment with a trigger, but got fancy by bouncing the enchantment and making players recast it. There's a time and place for this kind of design, but it requires a bunch of support around it. I would have preferred a cleaner triggered version here and I agree with Erik that I would want some cost associated with the life drain.

Design 9

Blood of the Horde (common)
RG
Enchantment
Whenever you attack with one or more creatures, choose one of those attackers. It gets +1/+1 and gains trample until end of turn.

This is a fine card, just not a fine common. We make a lot of commons, so designing proper commons is an important skill for you.

Repeatable trample doesn't look very fun on a common. This card is also not very innovative.

We generally don't put non-Aura enchantments at common. This one is pretty simple though, so maybe it's okay. I would change this to trigger at the beginning of combat on your turn to eliminate the unusual template.

Echoing the other judges, we probably wouldn't do this card at common as we seldom do global enchantments at common. Move this ability to uncommon and I like it.

Design 10

Saheeli, Prodigious Inventor (mythic rare)
2UR
Planeswalker — Saheeli
4
+1: If you control no thopters, create a 1/1 colorless thopter artifact creature token with flying. Otherwise, scry 2.
-2: Target thopter you control becomes a copy of target artifact or creature. It's still an artifact. (This effect doesn't end at end of turn.)
-8: You get an emblem with At the beginning of your end step, search your library for an artifact card with converted mana cost X or less, where X is two plus the highest converted mana cost among artifacts you control. Put it onto the battlefield, then shuffle your library.

I like the abilities, but I doubt they all fit. Also, I would not be surprised if the middle ability needs to be -X based on the converted mana cost of the copied permanent, so I would try and find a significantly shorter ultimate, one short enough to fit the converted mana cost text.

Four-mana walkers that create tokens on the +1 are risky in Constructed, and this is a nice way to mitigate that risk. The minus ability creates tracking issues as I must remember which Thopter is which creature, especially if this is activated multiple times.

This card presents significant user experience problems. Let's talk through my imagined scenario: I activate the +1 ability with an otherwise empty board. I get a Thopter, putting a cardboard token with "Thopter" printed on it onto the table. All good. My opponent doesn't want to cast their cool creature on their turn, because I will just clone it. I cast my own cool creature, then I activate Saheeli's -2 to clone it. However, the clone is represented by the cardboard token with "Thopter" written on it. Okay? On my next turn, I go to activate my +1 ability again. Wait, can I do this? Suddenly the fact that my -2 ability over-writes my Thopter token's creature type is very relevant, but not at all obvious from how the game state is physically represented. This seems unnecessarily confusing to me. Similarly, the ultimate ability shines a spotlight on the fact that copies of things have the same converted mana cost as the original, but again, my token won't have that information on it. All these criticisms aside, I like that all the abilities relate to each other in a way that makes the card feel cohesive. It feels like Saheeli to me, making artifact copies of things.

Planeswalkers are hard to design, partially because they have a lot of technical restrictions and partially because matching the flavor of the Planeswalker is difficult. I think you did a good job here. Now to nitpick. I like that the first ability restricts how many Thopters you have at one time, but I feel you got a little cheaty sneaking two effects onto one ability. The final ability interacts with the second ability, making you want to use them together, but the fact that they're both negative loyalty abilities means this will almost never actually happen.

Overall Judge Commentary

You are doing some of the important steps in making Magic cards. You have novel designs. Your cards match the colors. You have interesting decisions. However, there is another important step. You need to imagine what the card will do when people are playing with it. Ask yourself who is playing with it, and whether those people are going to enjoy playing with your cards? If you want to do well in this competition, it is imperative that you think about this for your next design.

Overall, many of the designs are innovative. I would look out for overcomplexity on cards. In a game with as many moving parts as Magic, less is usually more. I would watch out for designs where you have to do math to figure out what your card does, especially on cards with low rarities. I would also be careful about cards that require a lot of tracking and memory.

You have a good grasp of what types of cards are appropriate at each rarity, and a strong sense of what abilities each color should have access to. In general, your lower-rarity designs seem to be stronger than your higher-rarity ones. To put it bluntly, your most novel designs don't look like very much fun for one reason or another. Imagine the experience of playing with (and against!) each card you design. If you have time, playtest the cards. Look for places where your players could have a bad experience with the cards. Pay attention to which physical actions and mental processes players will need to perform to execute a card's mechanic in a game of Magic. Think about how information is tracked. I didn't see a lot of resonant, top-down designs here. One of the keys to Magic's popularity is that people can see cool things they recognize expressed in the cards. Try to design more cards to a creative concept for the next challenge.

You have a lot of creativity and you clearly have a good understanding of the color pie. Many of your designs have flashes of brilliance that excite me as someone looking for new design talent. I also enjoy how you search out new areas to explore. You have tons of potential. That said, there are numerous areas of improvement, things I want you to demonstrate as this competition continues. First, you need to do more playtesting with your cards. [All the finalists are allowed two playtest partners.] An important part of design is understanding the ramifications of your decisions, and it's clear from your design test that you don't always think through how your cards will get played. Second, you need to get a better handle on how you communicate what you intend the cards to do. Numerous times you have written down words that I and my fellow judges don't know exactly how to interpret. Third, you need to do more consulting with existing cards to see if the things you want to do can actually work. Pushing in new space is good, but only if it's space that the rules can accommodate. I'm excited to see what you can do, but I need you to understand that there's more work to Magic design than just writing down ideas that pop in your head.

Challenge #1

Judges

Eli Shiffrin

Erik Lauer

Melissa DeTora

Guest judge Alexis Janson

Mark Rosewater

Tribal Choice: Horror

Contestant Comments

"A Biomancer is a butcher. A Necromancer is a graverobber. Truly harnessing the power of life requires Ichormancy." —Kyrza, Ichormancer Eternal

An Ichormancer is a researcher who modifies the very core of a being, working in the magical space between physical body and psychic essence. But living creatures are complicated, so all too often, the experiments result in twisted nightmarish mistakes—Horrors. Fortunately, any mistake can be broken back down and rebuilt again, in the endless pursuit of perfection.

Horrors in Magic have no pre-existing mechanical identity. Many of them share a flavor of corruption and mutation, a sense of unease, a sense that they are not quite what nature intended. They exist in all five colors, but are mainly blue and black, the colors I chose to work with.

My designs communicate the Horrors' unnatural state, their imperfection, via non-square stats and imbalanced multicolored costs. To that end, I borrowed the 3/2 Horror tokens from Shadows over Innistrad, although mine are black instead of colorless.

Ichormantic Horrors are frightening and unnatural (menace is a perfect fit), but they aren't very large. There is no 7/7 trampling Horror in this block.

The controlling Horror deck grinds out long-term advantage through repeated death triggers and synergies. The more aggressive version uses menace and edict effects to keep an opponent on the back foot while building up a critical mass of Horrors.

Design 1

Corrupted Research (common)
1UU
Sorcery
Draw three cards. Then discard two cards unless you sacrifice a Horror.

Typically, blue does not sacrifice its creatures for card advantage, black does. Occasionally blue might do Vivisection for flavor reasons. Here you are demonstrating that your theme works at common, so this is not appropriate. I might use a discard effect here, similar to the card Thirst for Knowledge.

One issue I see with this card is that this is a synergy card with a restrictive mana cost. There is a deck-building cost to play this card: put a lot of Horrors in your deck. The payoff is only plus one card, which is not that rewarding, yet this costs 1UU. I think this card would be cooler if it were an instant—then you could cast it in response to removal and feel more rewarded. Like Erik, I also don't think this is a mono-blue card because it involves sacrificing.

You've taken Vivisection and made it better in at least two ways. Commons that draw three are not usually where we push boundaries. This common only makes sense if there's a graveyard and a sacrifice theme going on in Horrors—appropriate, but ultimately a bit uninspired, and none of your designs touch the graveyard.

As a general rule of thumb, we tend to restrict card drawing in common to two cards. The only recent exception involved spending eight mana, so it was clearly only usable late game. As is, this card will let you draw cards at a more efficient rate and quicker than we usually do at common. As Erik and Melissa already pointed out, sacrificing other creatures for spells isn't something we really do in blue; you would need the world's flavor to justify it, and even then it would be a serious bend. You did capture the essence of what we like to see in common tribal cards, what R&D calls "threshold 1," which means you only need one of the creature type to be able to function

Design 2

Congealed Construct (common)
2U
Creature — Horror
1/3
When CARDNAME dies, reveal the top card of your library. If it's a Horror, draw two cards. Otherwise, draw a card.

There is something interesting here, with some issues. First, it is nice if commons tend to work fairly often. Imagine if my Limited deck has fourteen Horrors, including one of these. Then thirteen of the other 39 cards are Horrors, and this only rewards me for playing a heavy tribal deck in one out of three games. Second, I am revealing the card and drawing it, even it is not a Horror, reducing the hidden information of my hand. I would change this to "scry 2, then reveal the top card of your library. If it is a Horror, draw a card, otherwise put it into your graveyard."

This is a nice way to do a tribal payoff at common. This is a powerful card that you'll happily play in your deck regardless of how many Horrors you have, but the more you have, the stronger this is. This is not the type of card that will "float" to the Horror player in a draft, which I think is good for a common. One thing I want to point out is that I would not put these first two cards in the same set. They are both Horror rewards where the payoff is draw cards, and both have the same converted mana cost. I think the cards are too similar. (The designers were told to assume all their designs were going to appear in the same set.)

We would probably just print either Exultant Cultist or Youthful Scholar as a Horror, unless there's a library-manipulation theme going on. I didn't see any reason in your other cards to care about the top card of your library, so it probably shouldn't be one of your commons. This seems like a missed opportunity, as Horrors being so weird/scary that they interact across zones would've been a much more novel theme to explore.

My major issue with this card is that you worded it in a way that might cause confusion. I wouldn't reveal it and then separately draw it, as there's some ambiguity as to whether you count the Horror when drawing the cards. I would reveal and draw a card as a single action. Then if it's a Horror, draw an additional card.

Design 3

Abandoned Laboratory (uncommon)
Land
T: Add C to your mana pool.
B, T: When target non-token Horror you control dies this turn, create a 3/2 black Horror creature token. Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery.

This is a good design. It both rewards sacrificing, and gives more Horrors to sacrifice, assuming your two-color deck wants to play a colorless land.

I like what this card is doing, but I am not a fan of the execution. Usually you will activate this and it won't do anything (activate, attack, opponent doesn't block, the card did nothing). Ways to get around that are making the activation more expensive and removing the sorcery restriction. I would expect to see a lot of sacrifice effects in this tribe when I see this land in your set. One cool thing about this card is you can utilize this as pseudo-evasion, because it disincentivizes blocking. I dislike lands in Limited that can mess up your color balance, and this does that by tapping for C. You can easily fix that by making this enter tapped and tapping for B. This is the type of card that players will cut from their decks if they are splashing a color or have a lot of CC in their mana costs.

This feels like it's a land because you needed to make a land; this effect would've made more sense to me on pretty much any other card type. Making it a land makes it almost free to include in your deck, which means you'll see this being played all over the place rather than forcing deck builders to commit. I like making this effect sorcery speed and I'm glad to see the nontoken creature restriction.

I agree with Melissa that I would have had this entered tapped and produce black mana. Due to the constraints of the challenge, you're encouraging a two-color Horror deck, so forcing them to play a colorless land is far from ideal. I like what this card is trying to do, but I don't believe it will do a good job of it in its current execution. Saying "If you kill this this turn, I get a reward" is basically a wordy unblockable. I think the crux of the problem is what Alexis was talking about. This card doesn't want to be a land. You want it to be a surprise, meaning it wants to be an instant (or a permanent with flash).

Design 4

Malevolence Transplant (uncommon)
1BB
Enchantment — Aura
Enchant Creature
Enchanted creature gets +2/+0, has menace, and is a Horror in addition to its other creature types.
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, each player sacrifices a non-Horror creature.

This is my favorite card of your set. It protects your creature from the sacrifice effect, and plays up the feeling of horror.

I don't enjoy creature-buffing Auras in Limited because of the potential to get two-for-oned, but this one looks great because it usually replaces itself. That said, I think this card is doing a little too much. Since the opponent is sacrificing a creature (and you likely aren't), menace means that the opponent can't block this until they play their third creature. I think that is more frustrating than fun. For that reason, I'd remove menace. I think this is an interesting Standard card at 1B.

You've got an obvious sacrifice theme in Horrors, and yet I can't sac my Horror to this effect. I suspect this card would lead to some big swings and surprise blowouts, as most opponents will need at least three creatures to have a chance of stopping my attack. Between those two things I suspect there will be a lot of "Oh . . . right" moments with this card when one player or the other makes a decision based on a misunderstanding of this card, which are some of the least fun moments in Magic. Not a fan of this package of potpourri.

This card is a bit odd in that it's a tribal card that, in order to make use of all its components, wants you to play a non-Horror creature in your Horror-themed deck. Obviously, you could enchant a Horror with this Aura, but the mere fact that it saves a non-Horror creature encourages you to consider pushing outside your tribe. This would make some sense if you were pushing a cross-tribal synergy, but I didn't see any evidence of this on other cards. The other odd thing is that in your set, you want to sacrifice Horrors, so it's strange that you turn a creature into a Horror and grant it extra abilities. That makes you less likely to want to sacrifice it. I might have considered granting an extra ability if the enchanted creature was a Horror instead of turning the creature into a Horror.

Design 5

Overspawn (rare)
4BB
Instant
Sacrifice any number of Horrors. Then create two 3/2 black Horror creature tokens for every Horror that died under your control this turn.

If your opponent has Rest in Peace or similar, your Horrors don't die, they just get exiled to the happy fun sunshine cake factory in the sky (what a horrible place). Be careful to ensure other cards in your set and in other sets that will work concurrent with your set don't make this a frequently occurring disappointing interaction.

This doubling effect is very interesting. It oozes with flavor! However, it is not telling me "Horror."

Interesting idea to combine Caller of the Claw with a sac outlet. I like the different ways you can play with this. Rebuild post-wrath or upgrade your creatures into more creatures.

This is reminiscent of Hellion Eruption or Devastating Summons but with much lower risk. We'd have to be really careful to make sure that the best use of this card wasn't just tripling my sacrificial resources for some crazy combo. I'm interested in playing the "fair" version of this deck with grindy value trades, but this card isn't telling me what makes that deck new and unique.

Your set design pushes you to go wide with Horrors. This design is one of my favorites because it's the kind of thing you can build a tribal deck around. My biggest issue with this card is more of a global issue. You want a consistent message of whether or not you're allowed to sacrifice Horror creature tokens. That means you need to choose one and be consistent in your set. These cards are all supposed to be from the same set, yet they work differently. You would need to fix that.

Design 6

Ichormantic Pit (rare)
3
Artifact
At the beginning of your end step, you may sacrifice a Horror. If you do, reveal cards from your library until you reveal a Horror card. Put it onto the battlefield, then put all other cards revealed this way on the bottom of your library in a random order.

This points me toward a deck that only has a couple of copies of the most powerful Horror, and other ways of generating Horrors (such as token creatures). That deck would play the same way game after game. While it is reasonable to use an existing solution to this problem (such as only looking at a fixed number of cards, or a converted mana cost restriction based on the sacrificed creature), this is a design contest. This was a terrific opportunity to design a flavorful limitation.

This looks too strong and easily abusable. Your set already has Horror tokens at a high density, so there's no stopping me from building a deck with the strongest, most expensive Horrors as a one- or two-of, then cast this and get my one creature immediately (Think Oath of Druids with only one creature in your deck, or the old Standard Polymorph decks with only Emrakul to find). I also don't like that it happens every turn. It will lead to repetitive gameplay. You could instead reveal five cards from the top of your library and get one Horror from among them into play; that will make your deck building more creative and interesting and not make the games play out the same every time. It would also ask you to put a lot of Horrors into your deck, which seems like what you wanted this card to do.

I would be excited to try and build a deck to abuse this. This card was obviously intended to scratch my Jenny itch, but it's setting off my Spike warnings as well. Cards that put things onto the battlefield for free are one of the biggest red flags for constructed balance. That's solvable in a number of ways, but I'm a little concerned that you didn't address that proactively. Good catch on the random ordering.

I have the same basic note as the other judges, but I want to present it from a different vantage point. One of the early lessons of design is the difference between what someone having fun will do with the card and what someone trying to win will do with the card. If you're having fun, you fill your deck with Horrors and every sacrifice brings a new surprise. If you're trying to win, you put just one potent Horror in your deck (with cards that make Horror tokens) so that when your Horror dies, you know exactly what you're going to get. That's where this design fails for me. You want to design your tribal cards so that the correct way to play them to win encourages being tribal and not anti-tribal.

Design 7

Kyrza, Ichormancer Eternal (mythic rare)
3UUUB
Legendary Planeswalker — Kyrza
6
You may play CARDNAME's loyalty abilities twice each turn instead of once.
+1: Create a 3/2 black Horror creature token.
-3: This turn, whenever a Horror enters the battlefield under your control, you may return target creature to its owner's hand.
-13: You get an emblem with "Whenever a Horror enters the battlefield under your control, return target permanent to its owner's hand. That player discards a card."

The best part about this design is that you can activate the second ability, then activate the first and feel rewarded. However, this points toward even better design possibilities. To give the player more pleasing choices, instead of just following instructions, the abilities should be designed so you get rewarded another way if you activate the first ability before the second. For example, if the second ability also had "Each opponent loses 1 life for each creature you control," you would sometimes activate the abilities in a different order.

I think the package here is interesting, but I dislike the play pattern. Getting two 3/2's will kill more quickly than getting the emblem, so there is little reason to use the ultimate. Planeswalker ultimates should win the game eventually, especially when asked to keep a planeswalker in play for five turns uncontested. This planeswalker ultimate will set you back, and you'll have to rebuild. The loyalty cost on the ultimate is too high and not rewarding enough (keeping this in play for five turns is a huge ask, and I'd rather just continue to make 3/2s and/or use the -3 to control the board). Sequencing is unsatisfying for a seven-mana planeswalker.

Planeswalkers have very restrictive design space, and yet we need them to be in almost every set. As such, we try to use that design space up very deliberately. I doubt we would put a unique mana cost, a static ability, and a niche tribal planeswalker all on one card. For seven mana, I would expect a planeswalker that immediately takes over the game, and this certainly delivers. The static ability on this planeswalker begs for simple abilities that create four or more interesting permutations, but this card lacks that elegance, with only two realistic permutations the first turn. After five turns, I would generally expect an ultimate with more immediate impact. I've probably already won the game in practice, and the ultimate should help close the game out quickly rather than simply make it more dismal for my opponent to keep playing.

I like the static ability (with the caveat that we've hypothetically decided to start doing static abilities on planeswalkers— something we haven't done yet, but hey, this is a challenge to show off design chops). My issue is that the design doesn't maximize the ability. I like the first ability. It plays into your larger theme, and token making has proven to be a good means for a planeswalker to protect itself. The second ability being bounce seems wrong for a few reasons. One, it's strong enough to require a -3 loyalty cost, limiting how many times you could do both the first two abilities together. Two, repeatable bounce has proven to be a bit oppressive and not particularly fun. The third ability has multiple issues. It repeats much of the second ability making you not want to use it once you have the emblem. It's also a traditional ultimate requiring a high cost that also lessens your ability to combo with it. I would have made a third ability that was less of an ultimate but cheaper so that you set up more interesting combinations. What this planeswalker should have been was the static ability with three different cheaper loyalty abilities that all mixed and matched with each other to create cool interactions. If you could have designed it so each interaction was different based on the order that you used them, that would have been a great design.

Design 8

Kyrza's Lost Paragon (mythic rare)
(no casting cost, color indicator shows blue and black)
Legendary Creature — Horror Lord
5/4
Flying, Menace
Other Horrors you control have menace.
When you would create a Horror token, you may pay 1UUB to put CARDNAME onto the battlefield from outside the game instead. You may play this ability of a card named CARDNAME only once each game.
"It was so beautiful . . . but how did I do it?" —Kyrza

This adorable little critter's last ability can probably work, but it has a ton of details to discuss. Abilities working from outside the game and affecting the game is new and suspicious. Replacement effects can't ask for a mana payment, but there are plenty of ways around that. Referring to the ability as "this ability" when it can exist on multiple objects isn't really doable, but I'm sure there's a way to catch it. All in all, I'm happy to see this kind of design come up and generate conversation about what the rules can do, even if they get cut for causing too many questions 10 minutes later.

While this is novel, I doubt it is fruitful. I strongly suspect this would take a lot more effort for Magic Online to implement a replacement ability from the sideboard than one card would warrant.

I think the idea of fetching a cool Horror out of your sideboard is good one, but I'm sad I can't even cast this! I think this will confuse many players on a first read, because most players expect to be able to cast the cards they play in their decks. No mana costs makes this card a risk in older formats with ways to cheat it out like Aether Vial and As Foretold. I wish this card had a mana cost, but you still had the option to play one in your sideboard to fetch. I am also not getting the only once per game thing. This is a vulnerable creature, and I would be sad if I pulled this off only to have it die to a removal spell, and never being able to get another one out from my sideboard. I think there is cool space here for once-per-game effects, but I would expect to be able to do something else with my additional copies of this card. This type of design leads to repetitive gameplay, similar to tutoring. When I create a Horror token, I'm always going to do this when I can, and games with this card will play out the same way. This is why we limit tutor effects, or put restrictions on them, especially in Standard. With this card, I'm always going to have access to it, and as long as I have 1UUB, I'm always going to want to get this into play.

This fits well at mythic rare with its awesome, unique ability. Part of the reason it's so novel is that we are very careful with abilities that virtually guarantee you will always have access to a specific card. Tutoring effects tend to cost four or more mana for this reason, or be carefully restricted to a "safer" subset of cards. If we ever did something like this, it would likely be a French vanilla creature. The "Other Horrors . . ." line distracts from the coolest part of the card while making it much riskier to print. As written, I suspect the best deck for this would be a deck that spams cheap Horrors and Horror tokens, and then on the final turn of the game casts this card out of nowhere for an alpha strike. The best thing to do with this card needs to be actually attacking with it for it to see print.

I'm not a big fan of this card just sitting outside the game. It seems like novelty more for the sake of novelty than function. I don't mind having a lord that can evolve out of Horror tokens, but it should probably work out of your hand rather than essentially be a global game rule that applies to all Horror tokens.

Overall Judge Commentary

Your idea of a mechanical identity for Horrors is interesting. A lot of your cards need work. Some have color pie problems, some have play issues. Other than the sacrifice strategy, I don't see any obvious way to make my own cards. If I need to make new cards for Draft or Standard, I am not in a good position. But, because of the cards that already need work, it is very important that I have a clearer idea of what I am supposed to make. Overall, I don't find this to a fruitful basis for progress.

Mechanically, your Horrors feel like the "value" tribe, which sounds like fun space and many players will find appealing. The issue however is that this space is not really innovative and new. I think combining menace with disruption and value can be a little scary, and should be used sparingly. The way this tribe plays out, it's going to be very hard for your opponent to block, and it can be frustrating to feel like you have no blocking decisions (see Design 4). I would not have menace be a main theme for Horrors, and would only use it on a few cards.

You hinted at a variety of possible themes for the Horror deck, but I'm being pulled in a number of competing directions and your cards, especially your most novel concepts, fall short on execution.

I'll admit, when you first picked Horrors, I was skeptical. It didn't seem like a tribe that evoked a natural play pattern nor was something you would expect to band together as a group, but I reserved my judgment until I could see your execution. Sadly, you didn't deliver on either of these two things for me. I'm not quite sure why Horrors want to be sacrificed as a tribe and even then, your execution didn't make sacrificing Horrors easy to do. I get flavorfully wanting to turn other things into Horrors, but then you get a tribal deck that doesn't start as your tribe. I liked some of the mechanical space you played around in with Horror creature tokens, but it just didn't feel like Horrors for me. A big part of this challenge was figuring out how to build a play pattern that was fun and flavorful. I think you had some neat ideas, but they didn't mesh together into a cohesive whole. I would love to see you spend more time using your playtesting to focus on the feel of how your cards play.

GAME OVER

Alex, I'm sorry to say, we've chosen to let you go this week. You show a lot of promise with some flashes of true brilliance, but you're up against a strong pool of designers, all of whom have had a stronger composite body of design than you. I think you have some impressive raw design skills and, with more work, have a future in the game design industry.

Challenge #2

Alex was eliminated prior to this challenge.

Challenge #3

Alex was eliminated prior to this challenge.

Challenge #4

Alex was eliminated prior to this challenge.

Challenge #5

Alex was eliminated prior to this challenge.

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