Great Designer Search 3 Finalist – Ari Nieh

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

Steamfist Enforcer (common)
3(b/r)
Creature — Human Rogue
3/2
Menace
If mana from an artifact source was spent to cast CARDNAME, it enters the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter and is an artifact in addition to its other types.

This card is narrow and would only exist in an artifact-heavy set. However, the request was to design to an average Standard-legal set. So this is not a good fit for the given criteria.

Very cool! Commons are the backbone of the Limited format, and having artifact mana is not very reliable in Limited. Even in an artifact set, this player is expected to draft quite a few cards to turn this on. I like the idea though.

Steamfist Enforcer is an appropriate hybrid card. I like how it only checks for the build-around condition once (when it enters the battlefield) and then is a simple menace creature thereafter. Most sets won't have enough artifact sources to really build around this design effectively, but maybe a set with something like Treasure tokens could be a good home for this card.

This card is interesting, but I agree with Erik that it fails on the "design to an unnamed Standard-legal set" restriction. This card would only exist in an "artifact matters" set, and even then, I'm a little dubious this would be a common. The only way I would see it being common is if this was a keyword ability that showed up on a bunch of commons. I did find it odd that you picked this as your best design as I think you have numerous better ones.

Design 2

The Raven Lord (mythic rare)
4WU
Legendary Creature — God
5/5
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, create two 1/1 white Bird tokens with flying.
Flying creatures you control have 1, T: Draw a card.
As long as you've drawn two or more cards this turn, CARDNAME has indestructible.

Be careful with "as long as [condition], this has [bonus]" effects; if the condition can turn off in the same turn it turns on, losing the bonus can cause creatures to die. This means that either the condition must last for the rest of the turn (as you've done here), the bonus must not protect creatures from death, or we need to rejigger the ability.

This is fine as a white-blue design. However, you had an opportunity to show off, and this doesn't feel all that novel. Putting a mana cost on the activation cost to draw a card is a great practice; you are clearly communicating to game balance what you would change to make the card a little stronger or weaker.

I like a lot of things about this. It has an enters-the-battlefield trigger that justifies putting a six-mana creature in my deck. It asks you to build a certain type of deck, and it works with itself. I also appreciate the mana cost on the activation of the flying creatures, so you can't just take over the game with tons of cards. This looks strong, but six-mana cards need to be to get into player's decks.

This card is an on-the-nose top-down design of the Norse god Odin, complete with his ravens, Huginn and Muninn. The second ability represents the birds bringing Odin information from their flights. The Raven Lord's conditional indestructibility is typical of the sorts of "immortality" mechanics we put on Gods in Magic. "Flying matters" is a somewhat weird space that we occasionally play with. I say weird because flying creatures naturally synergize with each other, making it very difficult for opponents to stop your attacks. Nevertheless, it can be desirable to make a flying-matters card occasionally, whether they explicitly spell things out for less experienced players, or, as in your case, to express something about the creative of a card using a mechanic.

I enjoy this design. I like that it works on its own, but also encourages building around it. It connects together two different white-blue strategies, flying creatures and control, in a way that would allow people to mix and match white-blue cards that might not normally go in a deck together. I also like how you allow the flying creatures to protect the Raven Lord in a way that still allows you to make use of the other abilities. All in all, a nice design package.

Design 3

Rahmi, Master Engineer (mythic rare)
3RW
Planeswalker — Rahmi
4
Whenever an artifact is put into your graveyard from the battlefield, put a loyalty counter on CARDNAME.
0: Create a 1/1 colorless Servo artifact creature token.
-2: Add RRR to your mana pool.
-8: Create a 10/10 colorless Golem artifact creature token with trample and indestructible.

I like the synergy between the token and the static ability. However, this ability motivates the player to play in a particular way. Since we want different color pairs to give different strategies, the alignment of that ability with the color pair is especially important. I think this would make more sense in blue-red or black-red. For red-white, I would prefer if it motivated combat more, something losing an artifact doesn't.

I appreciate a new way for planeswalkers to gain loyalty, but this looks broken. I think in the right deck it can generate a lot of loyalty very quickly, and the -8 looks too easy to do. I think there might be rate adjustments that could fix this, but I would ask myself is it fun to play against a planeswalker that makes multiple 10/10 indestructible creatures in a game. I think the answer is no.

Putting a triggered ability on a planeswalker is a natural place to go if you're looking for novelty, and triggers such as this tend to work well on build-around rewards. Rahmi's 0 ability is nice because it synergizes well with the triggered ability. The -2 ability looks really weak to me. I can't imagine charging more than 0 for this on a five-mana planeswalker. It also doesn't really look very cohesive with the rest of the design. The ultimate is pretty good. It will usually end the game in short order, but it isn't completely unbeatable.

As I said above, planeswalker designs are tricky. This card both seems fun to play and captures the flavor of a preexisting character (I'm assuming you meant this to be Rashmi, the creator of the planar bridge. She isn't a Planeswalker, but I assumed you were playing around with "what if." If this is not what you meant, you need to steer clear of names of known Magic characters when making new ones.) You made use of a static ability, something we've (mostly) been avoiding so far, but an obvious extension of where we can go. I like that your three abilities all help get artifacts onto the battlefield to help trigger the static ability, and do so in red and white ways. Your ultimate is a nice balance of flavorful and game impacting without just being a "you win" effect.

Design 4

Mugai Creation Saga (mythic rare)
5GGUU
Sorcery
Do both of these, in either order -
* Draw a card for each creature you control.
* Create a 2/2 green Bear creature token for each card in your hand.

This breaks a couple rules about modal spells, but hey, rules were made to be broken! Wait, that's not what I'm supposed to say, is it? This design is a wonderful example of something that the rules specifically forbid (spells always do their things in the printed order) but only because there's not an exception that we need to point out. You stretched your design and found an exception; that's easy to write rules for.

This is a delightful elegant and innovative design; it is your best card. I think the template is flexible enough that it is worthy of an exploration for a splashy spell cycle.

This looks very cool and leads to interesting choices. My biggest problem is how expensive this is to cast. Nine mana is a lot to ask for and many players don't reach this amount of mana naturally. When you get to that late in the game, you probably don't have very many cards in your hand, making this card much less of a choice. If you're playing a ramp deck, I don't think this is an exciting payoff at nine mana.

I love the idea of choosing the order in which the card's modes are executed. I wonder if there are enough similar designs to turn this into a cycle. A+! I don't think this needs to cost nine mana necessarily, but that's a minor quibble.

I really like this design. It's both relatively simple but complex in its strategic application. It's also splashy and unique. I agree with Erik that this design would inspire me to design a cycle around it (I'd probably move it down to rare, not that this card in a vacuum can't be mythic rare, it's just a lot to commit to a mythic rare cycle). I also agree with Melissa and Ethan that I wouldn't want this to be so expensive to cast. Big thumbs up!

Design 5

Nyxian Ascension (rare)
4(g/w)
Enchantment
At the beginning of your upkeep, if you control five or more enchanted creatures, you win the game.

It's a big challenge to motive a player to put a lot of Auras on different creatures. While I generally shy away from outright winning the game, your instincts are aligned with mine here.

This looks very hard to do, but reads very exciting. If your goal is to keep enchanted creatures in play, you are probably playing a lot of hexproof. If you are enchanting your stuff, your creatures are probably strong enough to win through attacking. There is a lot of tension with playing this card in a creature/Aura deck. I don't think players will win with this very often, but will feel very rewarded if they do.

It's interesting that this rewards you for going wide with enchanted creatures, rather than rewarding you for piling a bunch of Auras on a single creature. This actually looks like a pretty difficult quest to fulfill, as you need to cast eleven different permanents and keep them alive. Generally, an enchanted creature is pretty powerful, so having five of them will usually win the game by themselves if they survive this long.

To continue a theme, you designed a number of cards that are cool, but only fit into a narrow band of worlds, or in this case one world—Theros. This card does what I like to see alternate win conditions do in encouraging the player to build a different kind of deck to achieve an offbeat goal, but the number of sets where it would be appropriate is low.

Design 6

Gwyn, Harvest Celebrant (mythic rare)
2BG
Planeswalker — Gwyn
4
+1: You may sacrifice a creature. If you do, return a creature card from your graveyard to your hand.
-2: Target creature gets +2/+2 until end of turn. Another target creature gets -2/-2 until end of turn.
-7: You get an emblem with Whenever a creature dies, each opponent loses 3 life and you may draw a card.

An important part of planeswalker design is answering the question "What am I going to do the turn I cast this?" This doesn't answer the question very well. If the player doesn't control a creature, and the opponent only controls one creature, there isn't much to do. I suggest changing the second ability to accommodate boards with only one creature, such as not requiring giving a creature +2/+2.

This card is a solid four-mana planeswalker. My problem with it is that it is not very exciting or doing anything special. Planeswalkers are our story characters and some of the most important card in the set, and this character has no identity and doesn't feel very different from other characters from the past. I dislike the +1 because it leads to repetitive gameplay. Since you are adding loyalty, you are incentivized to activate this ability the most, and you are always going to return your strongest creature. I don't think the play pattern is fun here. I would have made this a minus, so you can't just do this over and over.

I like how cohesive this design feels. Both the plus and the minus ability interact with the emblem (usually). I'm a bit concerned that neither of the top two abilities do much if you don't have a creature on the battlefield. This card may be too narrow in its application to see much play in Standard, which is where we position most of our planeswalkers to hit.

This planeswalker manages to both be flavorful and mechanically interconnected. (This is very hard to do, by the way. You all are making it look easier than it is.) I like how the card blends black and green abilities in a way that holistically feels connected. I also think it leads to an interesting deck to build. Finally, the play pattern of this card feels fun and super black-green. I would change the first ability to exile the creature instead of sacrificing it to lessen the repetition of the card.

Design 7

Taiga Eruption (uncommon)
2RG
Instant
Create a 3/3 colorless Elemental Mountain Forest creature land token with haste and trample. (It has T: Add R or G to your mana pool.)

One of the challenges of this exercise was to design to specific card types. While the card type is instant, in a practical sense it fills the role of a creature. When we are doing our creature counts, and encounter spells that make tokens, we use our judgment to decide whether the primary role of the card is to make creature tokens. If it does, we count it as a creature. So, if I asked one of my designers to design an instant, I would be disappointed with this card submission. You are far from the only person to do this in this exercise, but I hope you will try and avoid this in the future.

This card does a lot. It ramps, and ambushes a blocker or attacker, and creates a threat. This is very strong in Limited, and I don't think this is a fun card to get ambushed by. I think this looks like a sweet rare design that costs more and makes another token.

We've played around with creature tokens since Limited Edition (Alpha)'s The Hive. Land tokens are tricky because they're potentially easily overlooked, but making them also 3/3 helps people to keep track of them better. That said, I'm not generally a fan of Skyshroud Troopers and their ilk. Tapping a 3/3 for a mana feels like a much bigger cost than tapping a 1/1. Also, there's no way all that information fits on the type line, which needs an additional word, "token," beyond what would go on a nontoken card. I'd remove the basic land types and give the token its mana ability using rules text.

A few things. One, echoing Erik, you basically made a creature for your instant slot. Two, you made a land token (that produces mana). If you don't have a token card to represent this, it can be hard to keep track of its tapped state (this is especially important with mana producing cards). Three, we tend to avoid putting haste on creatures with flash (or instant-speed token makers) as the two abilities are non-synergistic.

Design 8

Excommunication Rite (uncommon)
3WB
Sorcery
CARDNAME costs 1 less to cast for each Cleric you control.
Exile target non-Cleric creature.

This tribal reward is great for Limited. It is a reasonable card to use even if you aren't playing the tribe, so it doesn't always float to the one person drafting that tribe, and you can draft it before committing. But the reward tells me I might want to try and draft that tribe.

A nice way to make a tribal removal spell. It is on the weak side, but the payoff is nice if you're heavy in that tribe. I think there are a lot of fixes for this, such as make it instant or make it 2WB. At uncommon, it's not going to show up often, and removal spells should be a bit stronger than common counterparts for Limited.

This card is very flavorful. A group of Clerics performing a ritual, expelling a heretic or an infidel. The exile (as opposed to destroy) effect is a nice detail. This card is backward-compatible with the Cleric tribal cards from Onslaught block, which were in white and black. In Limited, this card is playable in a white-black deck, but gets better if you're playing a few Clerics.

This is a flavorful Cleric tribal card that actually feels both white and black. None of that is easy to do, so congrats.

Design 9

Macabre Rumors (common)
UB
Instant
Each opponent puts the top four cards of his or her library into his or her graveyard.
Whenever a creature you control dies, you may cast CARDNAME from your graveyard. If you do, exile it as it resolves.

A concept I use for common cards with triggers is "cards on the hand"; when the card triggers, are you currently examining that card? For this, the answer is "no", so I would tend to move this to uncommon.

I like this as a better way to do the recover mechanic, and that you can cast this when you're ready to.

I'm skeptical that this card belongs at common. This is because it has an ability that triggers from your graveyard when some other card does something. This is mitigated somewhat by the fact that the trigger condition is when a creature goes to the graveyard, but it's still over the line, in my opinion. If the base ability wasn't so weak, I'd be concerned that it would discourage your opponent from interacting with your creatures out of fear of allowing you to flashback your card, but this minor mill ability isn't going to be of concern to many players.

I like this design. It hits its colors while making a relatively simple effect I haven't seen before. I agree with the other judges though that this probably isn't a common.

Design 10

Obsessive Remorse (rare)
1UR
Enchantment — Aura
Enchant creature
Enchanted creature attacks each turn if able.
Whenever enchanted creature attacks, defending player gains control of it at end of combat.

Most Control Magic variants are too overwhelming for Limited play. This one has a great flavorful fit for blue-red, and while still very potent, is a lot more reasonable. This is an excellent design.

I don't think that this is an exciting enough card to be rare. I like the design though.

This card is pretty cute to read, but I'm having trouble imagining wanting to put it in a deck. Its utility is so conditional, y'know?

I like quirky designs. I also like designs that try to capture aspects of our audience other than the tournament player. I think there would be an audience that would have a lot of fun with this card. I also enjoy that it's a "must attack" card that encourages the opponent not to kill the creature.

Overall Judge Commentary

Your cards are generally solid, and Mugai Creation Saga is my favorite card of the first round, showing that you might have the most potential. However, your designs are inconsistent. In particular, neither common card would be a common card in a typical Magic set. Since a set has more common cards than cards of any other rarity, the skill of creating good commons is very important to filling out a file.

Overall I like your cards. Many of the designs are innovative and look fun. My biggest criticism is the simplicity of your planeswalkers, especially the black-green one. Something for you to think about is rarity in terms of Limited. Is your card fun if it is a common? Is it fun if it shows up very frequently in Limited? Will it work in Draft? If it is rare, will there be fun choices to make when deciding to first-pick this? Is it a Limited blank or auto-first pick bomb?

Your designs look to be pretty fun in general. Sometimes the numbers seem a little bit off, but those are changes that are easy to make later in the design process. You've made a lot of appealing build-around designs at all rarities that could inspire players to build new decks. You have a good grasp of the color pie. Watch out for complexity at common. We want to make sure that inexperienced players won't encounter too many complex cards early on.

Take a little extra time to make sure that the rates of your cards are appropriate. Does a creature have the most appropriate power and toughness for its abilities? On which turn would we want you to cast a powerful spell? Look for similar cards, especially ones from the last decade, when putting numbers on your cards. I'd love to see more simple, novel, amazing designs like Mugai Creation Cycle. That's all, just wow us with that sort of genius, please!

You had the second-best design test. There are a lot of cool ideas packed into those designs. Your cards are flavorful, they're inventive and they inspire me as a designer to do similar cool things. My concern with your test is twofold: One, you spent more time showing off than demonstrating you can do the basics. Your commons weren't common and almost none of your designs fulfilled the meat-and-potato roles that every set needs. I'm glad you can do offbeat and quirky. Now show me you can do straightforward and practical while still having flair and flavor. Especially work on matching rarity. Two, you didn't do the best job of following the instructions of the design test. We asked you to design for an unspecified Standard-legal set and you made numerous cards that could only work in very narrow circumstances. Part of being a great designer is designing to the constraints given to you. I see that you have good design chops. Show me that you can follow directions.

Challenge #1

Judges

Eli Shiffrin

Erik Lauer

Melissa DeTora

Guest judge Alexis Janson

Mark Rosewater

Tribal Choice: Insect

Contestant Comments

"Insects? On my battlefield?" It's more likely than you think.

Magic players have a great deal of familiarity with Insects—not only from fictional tropes, but also in the real world. Most people have, at some point, encountered an infestation of ants, wasps, moths, lice, or bedbugs. My goal is to reflect this experience in Magic and evoke similar emotions.

The mechanical reflection of an infestation is a go-wide faction. However, unlike the Selesnya, who go wide and over the top, or the Boros, who go wide and kill fast, our Insects use their numbers to grind out victory by accumulating, reusing, and trading off resources. The experience of battling against Insects is both satisfying and frustrating; you keep spending resources splatting them, but somehow there are always more left.

There are two primary mechanical themes for this faction:

  • Token making, reflecting their fecundity.
  • Tapping Insects for effects, reflecting their industriousness.

Other Insect tools include death triggers, graveyard recursion, efficient removal, deathtouch, evasion, and saboteur abilities. The last four of these are specifically intended to break up the ground stalls that could result from a token-heavy environment. Indestructibility, hexproof, and pumping toughness are avoided, both to encourage attacking and to make individual Insects feel expendable.

I implemented this playstyle with top-down designs of specific Insect tropes: fecundity, social behavior and structures, metamorphosis, venomous stings, pheromone trails, and feeding on carrion.

Many thanks to my playtesters, whose feedback was invaluable in polishing these bugs to shine.

No comments on any of Ari's cards; his cards are pretty simple. Playing it awfully safe!

Design 1

Egg Tender (common)
1G
Creature — Insect
1/1
When CARDNAME dies, create two 1/1 green Insect creature tokens.

This is a fine common that leads me to believe I may be playing a swarm deck.

I love this. Appropriate common and feels spot on for Insects.

Mogg War Marshal and Hordeling Outburst make me worry this is mildly undercosted. Normally, designers don't need to worry too much about cost, but sometimes the appeal of the card is dependent on a specific cost, and I don't think this card is nearly as appealing at any other cost/size combination. Other than that, this is an appropriate nuts-and-bolts design that doesn't try to break any new ground whatsoever—an important and underrated skill for a great designer to have.

This is a nice common. It's flavorful and plays into your mechanical theme and also functions just fine as a stand-alone card for Limited. Technically, it doesn't care about Insects (it merely makes some), so a slight ding for not following the rules. (All of the cards had to mechanically care about the chosen tribe.)

Design 2

Corpsefly Rite (common)
B
Sorcery
Return target creature card from your graveyard to your hand. If that card is an Insect, create a 1/1 green Insect creature token.

This is a nice common reward card, especially in Limited. I can use it when I don't have an Insect, but I get an appropriately sized reward for common synergy.

This card is the right power level for a common, but I don't think I'm being rewarded enough for returning an Insect. A 1/1 is not a payoff that is very exciting. I like increasing the cost and the number of Insects, like 1B to make two.

Gravedigger is not common, but this might be okay as it's much less likely to lead to a two-for-one and can't be looped. This is really skirting the line for the "design a sorcery, not a creature-in-disguise" restriction, though. I do like this mechanic as a more interesting Raise Dead variant than March of the Drowned. Token making that doesn't match the color of the card is one of my irrational loves, so I might be biased here.

This is another flavorful yet simple common, this time being mechanically relevant to Insects. I like how you're playing into swarm space, figuring out how to build a small army of Insects slowly over time.

Design 3

Skullmoth Larva (uncommon)
3B
Creature — Insect
2/2
Tap another untapped Insect you control: Monstrosity 2. As long as CARDNAME is monstrous, it has Flying.

This is a huge, appealing reward for playing Insects. It is a very appropriate uncommon.

There are a lot of sweet things going on here. I like the different cost on monstrosity. I like the monstrosity reward. I like the deck-building cost required to make this monstrous. Lastly, this is an appropriate rate and complexity for uncommon. So, overall awesome design. I think that free counters at any time can be a little hard to remember, and I can see players getting blown out by this in combat. We try to limit effects like that to sorcery speed, or have a mana cost associated with them. I think this one can have a small cost, such as B (it would still be very strong!) so that there is a shields-down moment when you're casting this on turn four.

Wow. This really makes me want to jump through a hoop to get a 4/4 flier for four mana. Unlike monstrosity, which required committing mana, activating this will almost never be a difficult decision. I'm mostly surprised that you went ahead and reused a keyword, as I wouldn't expect this to appear on very many Insects.

I like that you're using Insects to not only get more Insects but also upgrade the ones you have. Both tapping as a cost and monstrosity as a returning mechanic are interesting choices. I agree with Melissa that I'd have some mana on the monstrosity cost, though.

Design 4

Swarm Strike (uncommon)
4B
Instant
Each Insect you tap while casting this spell reduces its cost by 2.
Target creature gets -4/-4 until end of turn.

This is another well-positioned uncommon. I could draft it and feel confident it could fill out my deck, but also be very strong in a tribal deck. It's nice to have removal with the potential for Constructed play.

Very nice tribal removal spell! It's solid when you have zero insects in your deck, and a great payoff when you have some. I see that tapping Insects is a theme with your tribe, and this is a cool way to play into that theme.

This instant is a cool way to create surprises using your extra Insects. A nice design that uses existing design space in a slightly different way to create a completely different feeling while being flavorfully appropriate. I like this a lot.

Building in a tribal convoke-like quality to help make your spells relevant to the tribe was an interesting choice. It works particularly well with the swarm flavor of the damage.

Design 5

Pheromone Trail (rare)
1G
Enchantment
Whenever one or more Insects you control deal combat damage to a player, look at the top card of your library. If it's a land card, you may put it onto the battlefield. Otherwise, put that card into your hand.

This is your weakest design; it isn't an appropriate two-mana card. However, costing more would make the ramp aspect unappealing, so, as a set lead, I am forced to change the design. My intuition is to make a black-green enchantment where you sacrifice Insects for a reward similar to what you list here.

This is not unexplored space; we have had enchantments that grant saboteur triggers and this line of text on an enters-the-battlefield trigger in the past, but I think this kind of card is perfect for your tribe and plays well into their themes, encourages attacking, ensures you don't run out of gas. Your card is at the wrong rate (Bident of Thassa and Coastal Piracy are good comparisons, and your card costs two less and ramps you). When you're unsure how to cost cards, I recommend using similar cards as a guideline and then adjusting the cost based on how much stronger or weaker it is.

I'm not sure I see the flavor you're going for here, even with the name. This is also pretty powerful at two mana, snowballing into an insurmountable advantage very quickly if I have a one-mana Insect. I'm not sure how I'd turn this into a card that creates a fun experience for both players while still being an interesting way to encourage playing Insects.

In general, I've liked the flavor of your cards, but this one didn't work for me. I understand mechanically why this effect would fit well into your tribe, but it lacked the resonance of most of your other cards. Color-wise, the effect fits right in, but repeatable card drawing on a tribe that often has evasion built-in probably wants to be a little harder to achieve.

Design 6

Carrion Beetle Mound (rare)
Land
T: Add C to your mana pool.
T, Tap an untapped Insect you control: Exile target creature card in a graveyard. Gain 2 life.

Sometimes Standard needs a resilient answer to reanimation, but sometimes it really does not want them. I would only use this if the Future Future League said it wanted a card that could exile creatures from graveyards. It is fine in that situation, but in general I would rather start with a more constructive card.

I understand the flavor here, and it makes sense for the tribe. I dislike giving a strong hate card to only one type of deck. If graveyard decks are strong in FFL, we will look to add graveyard hate to the environment. I think it's wrong to limit such a strong graveyard hate deck to solely an Insect deck. A second issue I see with this card is that the activation is very strong, and since you can very easily gain 2 life every turn, as long as one player has creature cards in the graveyard, this is going to be a main deck card in any deck that plays some Insects. Having a card so easy to main deck will push graveyard strategies out, and even some aggro strategies out, because of the repeatable life gain, and that's something we try to avoid. I think the issue is rate. I would make the rate weaker so this effect is not "free" to do every turn, but still be a card you'll want to main-deck as a one-of. I'd look at "2, tap an Insect" and gaining 1 life instead of 2. That said, I do like the card and think it is doing what the tribe wants you to do, and the flavor is good. The opportunity cost to add this to your deck is just too low.

This design feels more like a card we'd forge during Play Design as a way to protect Standard from being overrun with graveyard shenanigans, and less like a card a Great Designer would use to show off their unique talents. Tribal rares should really excite and reward me for playing their tribe, and this does neither.

I like the flavor of this card. I also like you building in different kinds of resources (such as life gain) to give the deck builder more options on how they want to tweak the tribe. I agree with Melissa though that this card is a not the kind of thing we push in a tribal card.

Design 7

Khal'xa, Hive Queen (mythic rare)
4BG
Legendary Creature — Insect
2/6
Flying
Whenever a nontoken Insect you control becomes tapped, create two 1/1 green Insect creature tokens.
Attacking Insects you control have deathtouch.

While there is some temptation to leave your token makers out of combat, she creates tokens when she attacks, meaning she plays more like a creature than an enchantment. While she is a lot stronger with other Insects, she can win the game on her own. This is a very appropriate mythic rare.

This is a very cool build-around and tribal reward, and makes me want to build a deck around it. I like that this card helps close a game by discouraging blocking. I like how well it works with your other cards that require tapping Insects. Making two Insects is a bit much, given how easy this is to do (no mana cost, deathtouch essentially makes all attacks free). I would change it to make one token instead of two.

My first reaction is excitement! But your other cards hint at a lot of token Insects, which could make this ability a very sad disappointment when I went to build and/or play my deck. Knowing to use nontoken is a good instinct for a designer, but knowing when (and how) to design so you don't have to is also important. It's a mechanical word that we use to control power level or fix rules concerns, not one we enjoy printing on cards.

I enjoy having a "queen bee" that makes more Insects. I think you made a slight mistake though requiring nontoken Insects to make token Insects. This keeps the card from having synergy with itself. I would actually let you tap any Insect but make the ratio slower; tap two Insects to make an Insect token. This way your swarm gets to slowly build itself up and plays into the token theme in your tribe.

Design 8

Altar of the Swarmlord (mythic rare)
4
Legendary Artifact
Insects you control get +X/+0, where X is the number of swarm counters on CARDNAME.
2, T, Sacrifice an creature: Draw a card. Put a swarm counter on CARDNAME.

Very nice. It tells me to play a lot of Insects, so I can feed some to this, but still have others to get the reward. You solved the problem of running out of Insects, assuming I am playing an Insect deck, by drawing more cards.

Nice design, good reward, encourages creative deck building. I think this card is doing a little too much. To me, the most important part about this card is the card draw, and the buffing Insects is just bonus. Since this is an Insect tribal card, I would try to reverse that. Turning an Insect (likely a token, that you used one card to make more than one of), into a card for two mana seems generous to me, when the reward is already strong. The activation is something you will always want to do every turn. I would like to see more decisions with it. If it was sac two creatures, for example, you now have more of a decision to make. Another direction is to increase the activation cost (you can lower the converted mana cost to compensate).

This feels way more defensive compared to the "attacking only" deathtouch on Khal'xa. I can chump and draw until my 1/1 Insects can trade up with Dragons. This fits your goals of a "grindy" experience, but your cards are definitely pulling in a lot of different directions. As a grindy card that takes a while to get going, this does not feel like it hits the right vibe for a mythic rare. I generally want my mythic rares to have immediate board presence, and even if I immediately sacrifice an Insect I am getting less impact than Glorious Anthem.

This is an exciting design and a pretty cool mythic rare. There's an interesting tension between building up your Insect swarm and ticking up the swarm counters (kudos on finding a way to get swarm counters). I agree with Melissa that the card drawing probably wants to cost more to use. You could lower the effect to match the cost, but then you don't get the card advantage to help make your tribe work. I like that it only pumps power so your opponent has some chance to find a quick answer.

Overall Judge Commentary

While I don't find the "go-wide faction" all that novel, your card designs are excellent. Your cards are appropriate for their rarity, and solve most play issues. You are on an excellent path. My advice is to keep doing what you are doing and continue to learn from the experience.

I liked so many of your cards. A lot of novel designs, and many of them got me excited to build an Insect deck. I like your vision here. Token decks sometimes suffer from ground stalls and not having ways to close out games. You designed a lot of cards that solve those problems. A lot of your cards were either over rate or doing too much. That said, nothing was overly complex, the rates were just too strong.

Your designs are generally clean and appropriate, and they work together well. I suspect you'd make a great nuts-and-bolts designer. I didn't see anything revolutionary here, but this balances out when combined with your initial design test. I'm a bit concerned about your ability to "bring it all together" and deliver a range of designs that are all on theme.

For the second time in a row, you had the second-best design test. Congrats on that. Last time, I told you to demonstrate you could design the basics and could follow the rules, and you did (okay, you got dinged once for not following the rules). If anything, you overcompensated in demonstrating you can play it safe. I think your choice of Insect was probably the best tribal selection (it was an untapped design space with lots of resonance). Your play pattern was fun, flavorful, and well executed, and you did a great job of making playable cards (even if you pushed things power-wise, as Melissa pointed out). What was missing this week was innovation. You made solid playable cards, but you didn't pique my curiosity as head designer. The reason I know this is because last week you were pushing design boundaries. What I'd like to see next week is a mix of Design Challenge Ari and Challenge #1 Ari. Show me you can push boundaries, but on solid, playable cards. Demonstrate that all these various skills can be combined into great designs.

CONTINUE 

Ari, neither you or anyone following should be surprised by this. You've been doing a great job and are clearly one of the current frontrunners. Keep doing what you're doing while also demonstrating that these various skills can come together in the next challenge.

Challenge #2

Judges

Eli Shiffrin

Erik Lauer

Melissa DeTora

Guest judge Aaron Forsythe

Mark Rosewater

Contestant Comments

What makes a circus special? You can see acrobatics at a gymnastics meet, or comedy at a stand-up club, or animals at a zoo. What circuses have is a diverse, colorful array of acts. And these acts themselves have multiple interesting facets. A great juggler doesn't simply show off the largest number of balls they can keep aloft—they also do flashy tricks with clubs, knives, and torches.

My mechanical reflection of this variety is through multicolored cards. Bigtopia also sees the return of the converge ability word. Both gold cards and converge are supported by strong mana fixing and generation of Gold tokens, which also reflect the financial nature of the enterprise.

Circuses are also a place for surprise—deeds so difficult, dangerous, or marvelous that the audience gasps. Bigtopia wants to create big, splashy plays, the kind that you tell your friends about after the Prerelease.

Lastly, circuses are a place for humor. I tried to evoke humor not through literal mechanical portrayal of funny tropes, but instead by incentivizing amusing gameplay patterns and situations.

Notes on Individual Cards:

  • Acrobatics: I was concerned about insufficient counterplay, but playtesters enjoyed playing around it. Motivates different blocking patterns.
  • Unicycle: Once granted trample for humor. Removed for balance.
  • Clown Car: Was initially 1/1. Playtesters liked it bigger for reuse.
  • Feats of Strength: 3GG converge looks odd, but was too strong and splashable otherwise.
  • Maxine: A "multicolored matters" legend for Commander/Brawl.

As always, thank you to my fantastic playtesters.

Design 1

Trained Elephant (common)
3GW
Creature — Elephant
4/4
Trample
CARDNAME has vigilance as long as you control a Human.

This is a fine common, but it feels like a green card, not a green-white card.

A very reasonable common for this set. Great job.

Yep. Well-executed common. Text is flavorful and matters in game.

All the judges agree; this is a simple yet flavorful card. I'm with Erik though that this card feels mono-green. Nonetheless, a fine common.

Design 2

Acrobatics (common)
1U
Instant
If target creature is blocked, it becomes unblocked. (It's still attacking.)
Draw a card.

The acrobatic creature dances its way out of danger, but the blocking creatures are still blocking—the effect should remove them from combat, too, so this isn't just plain weird. That starts making it look like False Orders, which isn't exactly a paragon of common design. So, we need to see where this design lands: Is this card doing such a good job that we need to keep it common? Is it worth the work to tweak the rules on the back end for "becomes unblocked" to remove edge cases, or is that work better suited somewhere else in your set?

There are rules questions here. What happens to the creatures that were blocking it? Do they still deal their combat damage, or not? The player needs to know the answers to the question, so currently we would not do this at common.

While this card isn't wordy, the words you'd need to make this work is very wordy (See Balduvian Warlord for an example), and that alone makes this card too complex for common in my opinion. Alternately, it could also be worded like Thorn Elemental, and have the blocking creature not assign damage. I think a simple "target creature can't be blocked this turn" is a better execution of the effect you're going for.

We've tried some designs in this space attempting to make top-down "teleportation," and they're always some combination of narrow and/or confusing. Your cantrip ability solves the narrow problem, but I still think this is a bit too ambitious as a common. Plus, the flavor isn't great—this feels more like wriggling free from capture than it does acrobatics. The acrobat would have been unlikely to have been blocked in the first place.

The judges all agree on this card—not a common. This is a good example of a problem that happens a lot in design, where you write a few words that you think capture what you want and, it turns out, that line of text is actually fifteen-plus words long, making the card infinitely more complex than you imagined. I like what you were trying to do here, but if you were on an actual set, we'd have to chuck this and start over finding a new way to capture this flavor.

Design 3

Feats of Strength (uncommon)
3GG
Sorcery
Converge - Target creature gets +2/+2 for each color of mana spent to cast CARDNAME and gains trample until end of turn. It must be blocked this turn if able.

This feels more like "becomes very strong" than "feats of strength."

Converge seems cool on this world. Flavor makes sense. Rarity is appropriate. Looks like it scales at too high a rate, but it really depends on how hard it is to make five colors of mana in Limited.

Using converge as your take on "play lots of colors" hits me better than some of the other multicolored executions of theme, but I still don't love this card. "Feats of strength" does not mean "become strong," and many submissions this week treated it as exactly that.

While I like the multicolor theme for the circus, converge feels like an odd choice. A circus feels more like a bunch of individual acts than a bunch of people working together (but perhaps if you played up more the performers all coming together to create a circus—it could work, it just requires a bunch of creative support, which tells me it's not ideal). You need to be conscious of names of returning mechanics, especially in a top-down set, and "converge" doesn't have much of a circus feel. My other issue with using converge on this card is in a circus, the idea of "feats of strength" tend to refer to a singular person, a strongman or strongwoman. Using it to imply many working together misses the circus feel of the concept of "feats of strength."

Design 4

Unicycle (uncommon)
2
Artifact — Equipment
Equip 2
Equipped creature gets +1/+1 and has haste.
Whenever a creature with equal power and toughness enters the battlefield under your control, you may attach CARDNAME to it.

Power and toughness equal to what? I know what you mean, but, oh boy, is that easy to misread. There's another super weird quirk: When an Equipment grants haste, there'll always be some players who wants to pass the Equipment around to multiple creatures to remove summoning sickness from them all and attack. Watch carefully for whether that's coming up in testing this card, especially with token-makers. It's not a fatal issue, but something to be mindful of.

I like capturing the feeling of being balanced on a unicycle. This also is an interesting reward in Draft.

Interesting design, but free haste is problematic. I don't understand the story here.

The "equal power and toughness" gag is a clever way to imply the concept of "good balance"—a requirement for riding any unicycle. I like this card, I like what it rewards, and I expect it would be decent in the deck it asks you to build.

It's a bit odd to choose this card and make it as an Equipment rather than a Vehicle (I do realize that as you chose to bring back converge you used up your one non-evergreen mechanic—I just would have picked a different card to design). Like many of the other judges, I do though appreciate representing balance by using power equal to toughness.

Design 5

Traveling Circus (rare)
Land
CARDNAME enters the battlefield tapped.
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, add one mana of any color.
T: Add 1.
2: Return CARDNAME to your hand. Activate this ability only if you control a multicolored permanent.

This is an interesting design. I like that you avoided using bookkeeping.

I don't understand the rarity here. This card without the activation to return to hand was a common in Oath of the Gatewatch and the activation to return it to your hand does not justify the rarity in my opinion. Land drops are valuable in competitive Constructed, and paying two and losing a land drop to color fix is not worth it. I played with Crumbling Vestige a decent amount in FFL (Future Future League—Play Design's testing of future Standard), and found the tension in when to play it awkward. Sometimes I'd need to make my land drop, but didn't need the colored mana until next turn (Crumbling Vestige did not see much play in the real world). This card will have the same play pattern. Maybe having a triggered ability of "When you cast a multicolored spell, you may return this to your hand" is a better execution.

An odd card, and one that probably reads far more unappealing than its power level. It doesn't play like an "enters the battlefield tapped" land, but rather a Tendo Ice Bridge that you have to use the color from right away, with the potential for later reuse. Maybe that isn't that powerful. Either way, it feels more like a place that keeps disappearing and reappearing rather than moving around, so the flavor doesn't seal the card for me.

I like that you thought to include a land to help you get colored mana, but I'm not sure why you made the player jump through so many hoops to get it. Also, converting two colorless for one colored mana once a turn and at the cost of your land drop seems a lot of work for little payoff. And as a rare? I agree with Melissa, this is not exciting.

Design 6

Clown Car (rare)
4
Artifact — Vehicle
1/4
Haste
Crew 1
Whenever CARDNAME attacks, draw a card for each creature that crewed it this turn.

Keep in mind that we'll need to define the term "creature that crewed it" – do you want to count creatures that have since died (I hope so)? Creatures that stopped being creatures (Also hope so)? A loyalty counter removed from an animated Gideon for Heart of Kiran (I hope not)? You should address this early on, because if your players can't agree on what the answer "should" be, you might need to redesign the card.

I love the way the game play matches the gag. Cram all my goofy creatures into the car, and plow it in. Hilarious! On top of that, the 4 toughness means the card is going to have a healthy diversity of play patterns. This is my favorite of your cards this week.

Flavor definitely feels like a clown car. I think the best thing you can do with this is just over-crew it by a lot and draw cards equal to the number of creatures you control. Colorless cards that draw a large amount of cards are dangerous, and I would not want to give this card to a color that is not good at drawing cards (like red) so easily. That said, I think the flavor and story is great. I think it's just a rate issue.

It's a Vehicle that you want to pack full of creatures, so the flavor is good. Gameplay could be tough to balance, but as you said in your notes, a lot of the "power" is in how much toughness the card has. Note that the right play pattern would be to crew it with one creature, attack to make sure it doesn't die pre-combat before committing more crew, then crewing it further once the card-draw trigger is on the stack.

It seems you keep getting dinged for not following the rules. You were allowed one non-evergreen mechanic and you chose converge. Vehicle is deciduous and thus not evergreen. Not a giant oversight as Vehicles are close to being evergreen, but a ding nonetheless. That said, I do like this design. The one thing missing is I would have put reminder text informing players that they can over-crew a Vehicle. It's not something all players would know and it's crucial to understanding this card. My one criticism is that it does nothing to tie it to Clowns in any way. You could have even had a different card make Clown tokens so at least we could see you made attempt to show a connection.

Design 7

Maxine, Keeper of Marvels [Ringmaster] (mythic rare)
2R
Legendary Creature — Human Rogue
2/2
Whenever you cast a multicolored spell, create a colorless artifact token named Gold. It has "Sacrifice this artifact: Add one mana of any color."
WUBRG: Put three +1/+1 counters on target multicolored creature. It gains vigilance, flying, and haste until end of turn.

This is more of a five-color deck reward than a circus reward. I am not fond of this design.

Looks a lot like Dragonsoul Knight but the ability to make Gold is cool and different enough. I think the Gold is the strong and fun part about this card. I think this card is trying to incentivize you to play lots of colors, but in reality you can just play two colors with a lot of multicolored and hybrid, and just use Gold to activate the ability. I think the design can use some work in that regard, but you are on the right track.

I get what you're trying to do here, but the treasure-as-money thing was done in Ixalan with Pirates, and this card has so many similarities to Captain Lannery Storm that it's distracting. The story this is trying to tell is reasonable, there just needs to be another way to package it.

Tying the multicolor cards to gold tokens as a means to represent the circus making money felt a bit stretched to me, but this card's execution is good. The three counters and three abilities to tie into the three-ring circus was nice. I might have fiddled with the power and toughness to further drive home your "3" theme.

Design 8

The Astonishing Alfonso! [Magician] (mythic rare)
1WUB
Legendary Planeswalker — Alfonso
4
+2: You may exile a non-Rabbit permanent you control. If you do, create an 0/1 white Rabbit creature token.
-3: Exile target non-Bird permanent. Create a 1/1 white Bird creature token with flying.
-7: You may play any number of cards exiled by CARDNAME without paying their mana costs.

If you exile multiple lands, you'll still only get to play one with this ultimate. Do you want to cast any number of nonland cards and cut out the potential for confusion?

This is a good job of capturing the flavor of a magician. However it feels like a white-blue card, not a white-blue-black card to me. You are compelled to use the +2 most turns, to get enough loyalty to do anything else. However, it is a narrow ability that you won't want to use that often. Since the loyalty math indicates using this ability over and over, I would want the player to feel that the ability is doing something. The -3 is so strong, this shouldn't be a four-mana planeswalker. In essence, this is a four-mana Banishing Light that comes with a 1/1 flier and a planeswalker. This has potential, but I would want to make several changes before testing it.

Flavorful card, but I'm not sure it's fun. I have to exile my own stuff, and I'm getting 0/1s? I need a better incentive or a better payoff. The ultimate is powerful, but again I already cast those cards. The -3 is exciting for sure, I'll always want to do that, but if I do, I'm very unlikely be able to ultimate in the same game. I think the strongest thing to do here is minus, plus to exile nothing, then minus again, which just makes this a Vindicate planeswalker. I think with number changes and rate changes we can make this fun (make the rabbit 1/1 at least!).

Excited for a magician with an exclamation point in his name! This card works for me—he makes stuff disappear to the delight of the crowd, then shows it all to you again at the end. The middle ability is pretty incredible, reminiscent of Ixalan Vraska, but a Bird is more valuable than a Treasure. I'd be excited to try this card.

This flavor of this design is darling. I like how he turns things into Rabbits and Doves (I mean Birds). The ultimate bringing everything back you made disappear is both cute and mechanically synergistic. Good job on that! Mechanically, I think Erik and Melissa are right that this won't play nearly as fun as it reads. A lot of planeswalker design is creating multiple play paths that are fun to explore. Alfonso could be a better showman in this regard. Erik is also right about the card being white-blue. This card doesn't need black.

Overall Judge Commentary

You made several cards that I like. You were most successful at your rare cards. However, overall your designs were less resonant than I would want given the exercise. I love the priority you put on cards that are fun to play every week.

I think your ideas were good but there were a few misses for me, some inaccurate rarities and rate issues. However most of your designs were ones that Play Design can work with. I thought your Crumbling Vestige land was not a cool rare or a good multicolor enabler. I appreciate you thinking about designing cards that are cool for Commander but also appropriate for the power level of Standard.

You have a few well-executed, flavorful cards that I'd be excited to play. Your multicolor theme is at a level I find tolerable, and it would probably draft well. You were just outside the top for me this week, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of your work.

I think you had a bad week, Ari. You were second in the design test and second on Design Challenge #1 and weren't even in the conversation this week for top three. Your best design were your higher rarity cards where you had more text to convey flavor. The big challenge of top-down is finding simple yet elegant ways to have cards that both read well and play well and, to be blunt, you struggled with that this week. You also had a multicolor theme for your version of Bigtopia, yet only two and a half of your cards were multicolored. Be conscious of your cards conveying your larger theme. Converge felt like a fine mechanic to return to a multicolor set, but an odd fit for a top-down circus world. You're still near the top of the field thanks to the strength of your first two weeks, but make no mistake, your stock fell a bit this week. You have a reputation for making clean designs and it was clear top-down design is an area of growth for you. It pulled you a bit off your game, but we have a new challenge testing new skills and I want to see you get back on the horse and continue to make fun-to-play, innovative designs. I see great potential in you. One last thing, can you please stop being the designer that gets dinged each week for not quite following the rules? I don't want it to become a defining trait.

CONTINUE 

Ari, you had a stumble, but you're still doing well overall. Brush Challenge #2 off and return to making well-polished, innovative, fun-to-play cards.

Challenge #3

Judges

Eli Shiffrin

Erik Lauer

Melissa DeTora

Guest judge Jules Robins

Mark Rosewater

Contestant Comments

Revered is a mechanic representing the worship of nature spirits. As a Spirit enters the battlefield, other creatures may tap to "bow" to it, strengthening it via +1/+1 counters.
Its rules text is:

Revered N: As CARDNAME enters the battlefield, you may tap up to N other untapped creatures you control. CARDNAME enters the battlefield with a number of +1/+1 counters equal to the number of creatures tapped in this way.

The template "As CARDNAME enters the battlefield" is modeled on Arsenal Thresher and avoids stack shenanigans. "When CARDNAME enters the battlefield" would create unintuitive windows of vulnerability. (Playtester feedback on this choice was mixed.)

Revered is a straightforward kicker mechanic that trades tempo for value. Despite the high word count, it is simple and easily understood. Like convoke, it is best alongside cheap creatures, but flexible enough for any Limited game. Although green is a natural home for it, its design space spans all colors and rarities, with N = 1 at common. It works best at higher mana costs to avoid "feast or famine" gameplay. It requires counters, but little mental bookkeeping.

Notes on Individual Cards:

  • Sacred Crane – Due to word count, most common Revered creatures are virtual and/or French vanillas.
  • Corroded Toad – Dropped to -2/-2 from -3/-3, since this Limited environment would have ways to reload the Toad.
  • Mushroom Kami – Token generation for future reverence.
  • Awakener of Spring – Creatures tired from worshipping? Not anymore!

Thanks, as always, to my awesome playtesters.

Design 1

Sacred Crane (common)
3W
Creature — Bird Spirit
2/2
Flying
Revered 1 (As CARDNAME enters the battlefield, you may tap another untapped creature you control. If you do, it enters the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter.)

This is a good clean mechanic. There isn't much tension here, but it is good to have a simple common where you just play it, follow instructions, and feel rewarded.

When making mechanics that require a choice, it's important to make the choices equal. With this mechanic, the choices are far from equal. My choices are: have a tapped creature and a bigger guy, or an untapped creature and a smaller guy. In nearly all circumstances, I'm going to choose the bigger guy. You need to give players reasons to cast this without revering. A 2/2 flier for four is so weak that I'm only casting this as-is if I'm desperate. Consider unleash—you can either have a bigger guy with a drawback or a smaller guy. It's a meaningful choice. I don't see that here.

The exact details of how often you'll want to revere in Limited will depend on other elements of the environment, but my suspicion is that you'd already usually rather revere when you have the option, so combining it with more abilities that scale up with revering is going to widen the gap.

Revered is an interesting mechanic. It's basically convoke used for size rather than cost. I like that you can set a number to cap how big the creature can become. You made the right choice to limit common to revered 1. You chose to make them all cost four or more mana to increase you having creatures already out, but this is going to cause some design-space limitations. There are only so many cards, especially at common, that cost four or more. Sacred Crane is a nice simple common with one ability to encourage you to want to make it bigger.

Design 2

Ghostly Carp (common)
4UU
Creature — Fish Spirit
5/5
Revered 1 (As CARDNAME enters the battlefield, you may tap another untapped creature you control. If you do, it enters the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter.)
CARDNAME can't attack unless it has a +1/+1 counter on it.

This is even more severe in the strength difference between when you have the +1/+1 counter and don't. I was hoping for one where that was a little closer.

Better execution. The base stats are reasonable on their own, so I'm not so sad if I have to cast this as a 5/5. Also, I'm assuming that there's a lot of counter swapping and production in this set, which means that if I have to make a 5/5 defender I can plan on attacking with it later.

My previous comment is truer here than on the last card. Most of these Sea Serpent design are engineered to help a slow deck hold the ground, then eventually gain the ability to attack and turn the corner to start ending the game. Setting this one up with one shot at getting to attack and needing to take a tempo hit to do so means that when this card stabilizes the board, it's likely to make the game drag on for a long time thereafter.

I like that you're showing different tweaks on how you can used revered, such as it granting an ability if it has a +1/+1 counter. This technology will obviously let you use +1/+1 counters as a theme in the set. My issue with Ghostly Carp is the differential between a 5/5 defender and a 6/6 attacker is a little too wide. At common, I would stick to stats where there's more decision.

Design 3

Boar Kami (common)
2GG
Creature — Boar Spirit
3/3
Revered 1 (As CARDNAME enters the battlefield, you may tap another untapped creature you control. If you do, it enters the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter.)
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, if a creature revered it, you gain 4 life.

This is too similar in its role to the Sacred Crane. Both are tension-free, four-mana common creatures.

As Erik notes, this is similar to your first design, where revering this is so much stronger than not that there are no situations where you aren't tapping a creature if you have one.

I'll stop noting the limited revere choice here, but the most likely reasons a player wouldn't revere, given the option, are that a) their only creatures are really impactful, b) they're getting beaten down by a wide board and need multiple blockers, or c) they're a very aggressive deck trying to kill their opponent before they can stabilize. Sacred Crane nearly obviated the last case, and this card nearly obviates the middle case.

I get that you're trying to demonstrate different ways you can use the mechanic, but part of design is picking which elements you plan to use. I wouldn't use effects that care about having a +1/+1 counter and have others care about if you revered it. It forces players to have to remember which card works which way. I would choose the +1/+1 counter version as it gives you more design flexibility and synergy. This card should gain you life if the creatures enters the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter.

Design 4

Corroded Toad (uncommon)
2BB Creature — Frog Spirit
2/4
Revered 1 (As CARDNAME enters the battlefield, you may tap another untapped creature you control. If you do, it enters the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter.)
B, remove a +1/+1 counter from CARDNAME: Target creature gets -2/-2 until end of turn.

We are four creatures in. As far as I can tell, all of them strongly reward doing the ability, meaning none are about making challenging decisions. Also, this one is the third to cost four mana. I would be a lot happier with W 1/1 Flying, Revered 1.

This is a cool design for a set with a lot of +1/+1 counter granting. So far all of your cards have had the same issue. The base creature is weak, and the upside of using revere is so strong that there are no situations where I am not tapping a creature if I have one.

Even at uncommon this is a fair bit of on-board trickery to track, and that demands a higher fun bar, which I don't think this card meets. Attacking into this with one open mana sounds daunting. Attack with a big creature and this will either bounce off it or tag team to kill it, and attacking with a swarm just lets this creature eat two of them.

This design demonstrates another cool way to use revered, effects that require sacrificing a +1/+1 counter. I like everything about this design but one thing: I would put a tap symbol in the cost, as this isn't something I want to happen while Corroded Toad is in the middle of attacking. It also slows down its use by a turn, which allows the opponent a window to deal with it.

Design 5

Mushroom Kami (uncommon)
4G
Creature — Fungus Spirit
3/3
Revered 2 (As CARDNAME enters the battlefield, you may tap up to 2 other untapped creatures you control. If you do, it enters the battlefield with that many +1/+1 counters.)
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, create a 1/1 green Saproling creature token for each creature that revered it.

Revered 2 is interesting here. However, I am still hoping for either some tension, or at least a creature that costs less than four mana.

With this design, the tapping your creature is even stronger, that I'm even less likely to cast this unrevered. There is not much of a choice here. A 4G 3/3 is so weak that I'm going to wait to play this to get full value. With a card like this, I don't feel very clever for making the correct choice. I can't imagine a scenario where casting this as a 3/3 is better than tapping two creatures for counters and tokens.

The idea of building up a revering engine sounds appealing, but without big revere numbers this isn't really doing that. You already had the creatures to revere it, so you can just use those again.

This is your first revered 2 creature. I'm happy you waited for uncommon. You show yet a different way to reference the ability. I'd reference +1/+1 counters rather than counting things that revered it, but other than that, a good design.

Design 6

Rising Sword Divinity (rare)
3WW
Creature — Angel Spirit
2/2
Flying
Revered 2 (As CARDNAME enters the battlefield, you may tap up to 2 other untapped creatures you control. If you do, it enters the battlefield with that many +1/+1 counters.)
Whenever CARDNAME deals combat damage to a player, you may move CARDNAME's +1/+1 counters onto target creature. If you do, exile CARDNAME, then return it to the battlefield under its owner's control.

If your Angel has no +1/+1 counters on it, what do you expect to happen here? Any answer can work, but we'll want to shuffle around the words to make it clear.

This is an interesting use of revered, but you still haven't given me tension, or a low casting cost. I would be so happy to see a one-mana flying creature with revered 1.

Mechanically this card feels more blue or green than white, because it deals with moving counters. Again, I feel like there is not much choice here. If I have untapped creatures, I'm always going to move the counters and reset this. I'd never want to cast this as a 3WW 2/2.

This card goes through a lot of hoops to put some +1/+1 counters on your creature, and ends up looking strangely blue in the process. Despite the potential to generate a lot of value, I don't think this card reads very appealingly, and if it's doing its thing, your opponent was probably already dead to the 4/4 flier.

I like that you keep showing different ways to use the revered ability. I do have a few issues with this particular card. One, I would have separated it more from Sacred Crane. Two, I would have tied this ability to revered 1 to make it both feel more white (putting multiple +1/+1 counters on other creatures is more green—and moving them is more blue) and make it easier to refill it when you flicker it.

Design 7

Awakener of Spring (rare)
3GG
Creature — Elemental Spirit
2/2
Revered 2 (As CARDNAME enters the battlefield, you may tap up to 2 other untapped creatures you control. If you do, it enters the battlefield with that many +1/+1 counters.)
At the beginning of your end step, if CARDNAME has two or more +1/+1 counters on it, untap all creatures and lands you control.
2G: Put a +1/+1 counter on CARDNAME.

This also costs five mana, and has a huge difference in power between when you use the ability and don't.

I think this design makes sense, as a Seedborn Muse with a mana sink, so you have something to do with the lands you untap. I also like how it can turn itself on if you have no other creatures in play. However, like with the other cards you've designed, I don't think there is much of a choice in whether or not you revere with this. If you have two creatures in play, the upside is so strong that I don't see many situations in which I am not tapping my creatures (especially because they'll auto-untap at my end step).

This card undoes its own cost (assuming I wasn't trying to beat down), which makes me question why it's doing the thing at all. The mana sink combining with the mana generation and making the revere ability less all-or-nothing are both good elements, but don't get me all the way to liking this card.

You continue to show off the variety of design of your mechanic. I like creating a static ability. My biggest issue with this card is with the choice of the static ability. I don't mind this on a support card in the set to help you build around revered, but on this card it basically undoes the cost of tapping the creatures, making it not really a choice. My suggestion for the static ability, if you were going to put it on a revered higher than 1, is that you chose something that scaled based on how many counters you have, making tapping just one creature something you would occasionally choose to do.

Design 8

Three-Face of Eternal Stone (mythic rare)
3WBG
Legendary Creature — God Spirit
5/5
Revered 3 (As CARDNAME enters the battlefield, you may tap up to 3 other untapped creatures you control. If you do, it enters the battlefield with that many +1/+1 counters.)
Vigilance, Reach, Menace
1, remove a +1/+1 counter from CARDNAME: CARDNAME gains indestructible until end of turn.

Watch out with Three-Face here—if it's been dealt damage, removing the counter might kill it before it gains indestructible. This means that a clever player can point 5 damage at your 6/6 Three-Face; your options are to call the bluff and let damage be dealt, or take off a counter that maybe you never needed to.

Now we have all eight cards, and they all cost from four to six mana, with very little tension.

Looks like nothing more than a stat monster. Not much creativity here. I'm heavily incentivized to wait to play this until I have three creatures in play, so I get a six-mana 8/8 that can protect itself. No real reason to not tap creatures here, which I think is true of all the cards you made.

Despite this card saying it's a God, it doesn't feel exciting enough to be a mythic rare to me. It also doesn't look appealing or directional enough to get me interested in trying to make it work in any Constructed formats (including casual ones).

It's odd—for all the innovation you showed off, your mythic rare seems to be the least innovative. I like having a revered 3, and obviously a reusable +1/+1 counter–sacrificing ability helps make each tapped creature matter. I just wish the card was a little splashier overall. Also, usually when picking three evergreen abilities for a three-colored card, you want the abilities to all overlap colors or have none of them overlap. Having just one, vigilance, overlap is aesthetically unappealing.

Overall Judge Commentary

Replacement effects that touch other objects can often cause weird undesired interactions, but I think you're safe here; replacement effects that make other things change zones are the real problem children. You'll want to watch out that your set and surrounding sets don't make it trivial to put two creatures onto the battlefield at once—a creature can't revere another creature entering at the same time, and one creature can't revere two entering creatures. You did correctly call out that stack shenanigans make the trigger version a little awkward in the rules-knowledge arena. If you were going to work on this longer, I'd advise you to keep an eye on your playtesters to see whether it's more awkward for it to be a trigger when you can Shock the 2/2 before anyone reveres it, or whether it's worse that players want to interact but can't. Don't feel like you have to eschew all rules quirks, especially if you end up fighting your players.

Making a new mechanic, and a set of cards for that mechanic, is a very difficult assignment. You did very well in making a mechanic. Your first common makes a lot of sense. However, the other cards do not do a good job of testing the potential for the mechanic. I want to know how lower casting cost creatures play, yet you don't have any. Is it so clear that a one-mana 1/1 flier isn't fun? I want to see what it takes to make some tension. Perhaps a +1/+1 counter for tapping a creature is too large a reward, and I don't think your card set tests this. It looks like it might be too large a reward for interesting decisions, so instead you put all your creatures at a higher casting cost, so you almost always have other creatures to tap.

This mechanic reminds me a lot of devour or renown, but it's a higher tension version of those mechanics. Many of the creatures are weak on their own, but have huge upsides if you revere with them. This will put many players in awkward spots, not wanting to play their creatures if they don't have another creature in play to tap. This works differently from devour and renown (because devour requires sacrificing, which you don't always want to do, and with renown there is never a reason to not cast your creature since the reward comes from a combat damage trigger). The biggest flaw with this mechanic is that there is very little choice to be made; the upside is so great that tapping your creature always correct. I also don't think this mechanic is very novel. One thing you could have considered here was to use -1/-1 counters instead of +1/+1. Then there would have been an interesting trade-off. Do I make my guy smaller to get some sweet bonus, or keep in bigger and not get the bonus? With +1/+1 counters, you don't really have a lot of choice, you're just going to tap your creatures in nearly all circumstances. With some of your designs, it's better to wait to draw a creature than cast your guy and not revere, and that causes high tension which makes for unfun games.

Revered reads really cleanly, and has some good flavor and obvious ways to build appeal, but just can't support a set. You astutely noted that the gameplay is much worse on low-cost cards, but a set needs a lot of those; jamming all of the cards with the mechanic into the top bit of the curve just means that decks won't be able to play very many of them and the mechanic stops being worthwhile to build around. Revered also rewards you heavily for having managed to keep some creatures on the board. That both heavily incentives you not to trade creatures off in combat and pushes the game away from potential comebacks because your cards get worse when an opponent is removing everything you play (a situation often encountered when you're getting beaten down in Limited or losing to a control deck in Constructed). The bigger the payoff for revering, the more intense this feast-or-famine dynamic becomes. Lastly, the mechanic doesn't do much to demonstrate new design space. After all, every condition for a cost reduction mechanic can go on a kicker mechanic. Your individual designs didn't address this mechanic's fundamental concerns. Aside from the blind spot, the low rarity ones were fine, but the high rarity designs didn't hold much of the splash value we want out of high-rarity cards.

The judges selected you as the third best design of the week. My personal feeling is that you tapped into something that had potential, but did a poor job of finding that potential. The thing I liked most is you did a good job at hinting what kind of support you'd add to the set to play with your mechanic and that seemed like it would lead to some fun designs. I agree with Erik that you must have gotten initial feedback from playtesting and pigeon-holed your design (making all the costs four or more) to always make sure you'd have creatures on the battlefield when you played your revered creatures, but this sliced off way too much design space. Also, with any choice, you have to make designs that push in both directions, and all your designs pushed in the same direction. I would recommend you be careful about jumping too quickly to decisions based on initial playtesting, especially when it removes too much design space. Usually, if that design space has to go, it's a sign that you want to look for a new mechanic.

CONTINUE 

Ari, I'm happy to see you bounced back this week. My advice for the next challenge is to broaden your ideas a little more. Your designs this week felt a little too similar to one another.

Challenge #4

Judges

Eli Shiffrin

Erik Lauer

Melissa DeTora

Guest judge Jenna Helland

Mark Rosewater

Contestant Comments

In matching cards to art, the biggest factors I considered were the mood, color palette, and compositional focus of the artwork. Here are my interpretations that informed these designs:

  1. Art K – The placid colors and static composition suggest a theme of slowness—"slow" spells, one per turn, and higher toughness than power.

  2. Art B – The crowded battlefield and cloud of smoke make conditional flash a clear choice.

  3. Art A – This merfolk has explored inland and befriended (or perhaps taxidermied?) a variety of non-aquatic wildlife. The set may have a multicolor theme.

  4. Art L – The mage's spells are feeding power to a sinister, quasi-real entity. Terrifyingly, one cannot tell how much of the surrounding landscape is actually part of the monster. Hence the hidden power and toughness.

  5. Art E – The powerful posture and grim facial expression on this cultist demonstrate his willingness to suffer.

  6. Art F – The sadistic glee on this demon's face suggests a reward for inflicting pain.

  7. Art D – Rubble explodes outward as the hellion lunges into the sky.

  8. Art I – These missiles appear to have been redirected to strike the fleet which launched them.

  9. Art J – This creature reads ancient inscriptions found in the jungle, perhaps guiding it to a location once thought to be lost. The set may contain a common cycle of Panorama-like lands flavored as ruins.

  10. Art G – Clearly charging into a fight, hands aglow with green mana. Combos well with Prey Upon, etc.

Many thanks to my insightful playtesters.

Design 1

Shrine of Serenity (uncommon)
3W
Stairs
Enchantment
At the beginning of your end step, if you cast an enchantment or sorcery spell this turn, create a 2/3 white Dinosaur creature token.
The eldest races know the wisdom of taking things slow.

This is a fine uncommon draft-around, since you get a 2/3 just for casting this.

Good Limited build-around. However, to me, enchantment and sorcery feel disconnected. It's pretty rare that a Limited theme will ask you to care about both enchantments and sorceries. The art and flavor look great for a card caring about these card types and making Dinosaurs.

Grade: B. Ideally, there would be more magic present in the art, but an enchantment was a good choice for this since the creature is not central enough for a creature card. I like the name with the art, but shrines tend to be artifacts.

This is a good example of a design where all the pieces line up—you matched the mechanical requirement and you matched the art (although I would have made it a white artifact Dinosaur creature token to capture the metal quality of the creature)—but the card as a whole is a bit lacking in overall holistic feel. Why specifically enchantments and sorceries? Mechanically, it's interesting, but this card doesn't do a great job of conveying why you're linking these two things together. I see in your notes that flavor text was trying to define these as "slow" things, but I didn't get that until reading your notes.

Design 2

Hammersworn Paladin (rare)
1W
Hammer
Creature — Human Knight
2/2
CARDNAME has flash as long as three or more creatures are attacking.
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, another target creature you control gets +2/+0 and gains indestructible until end of turn.

I like this as a reward for attacking with three creatures. I am not sure punishing your opponent for attacking with three creatures is right.

Doesn't really look like a Knight, more like a Warrior or Fighter. I think this card does fit the description of a Spike-friendly creature, but in practice it will be hard for this card to do what you want it to do. It's also not a card I'm interested in casting during my main phase. I think it needs a little something so you have more choice to cast in in your main phase versus casting it as a combat trick.

Grade: C. I like how the name helps justify this as a white creature. But Knights often have a mount, so this would probably get a different creature type. Flash was a good choice for the magical effect in the art.

I like the connection between flash and the smoke in the art, but it's odd that this card is all about this creature helping other creatures in battle and no other creature is in sight. Mechanically, the card is okay, if a bit lackluster as a rare. I just don't see the clean connection between this mechanical execution and the art. The fact that the focus is on the swinging of the hammer and the magical energy surrounding it, I would assume that this creature is somehow able to enhance itself magically, probably somehow in combat.

Design 3

Kalau River Naturalist (common)
3U
Snakes
Creature — Merfolk Shaman
3/3
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, if you control a Forest, look at the top card of your library. If it's a creature card, you may reveal it and put it into your hand.
Despite their best efforts, no Kalau has successfully taught a tortoise how to swim.

Sometimes you are up a card, and sometimes you are not. The randomness of that is too large a swing for a common reward card.

A bit too swingy for a common. Mechanically, this looks and feels like a green card. The art definitely looks like a blue non-evasive creature, but I don't think the art matches the rules text.

Grade: B. I like the name and flavor with the art. I could believe this to be a Merfolk Shaman, but I'm not sure about the controlling a Forest part for this art.

One of the tricky elements of this design challenge is that I asked you to design two cards of each color even though the arts didn't easily line up with this request. I did it this way because in the real world, the art isn't so kind as to always line up with your needs. Your solution to their not being a lot of blue-aligned art was to make a blue creature that's secretly a green creature. You did do it the way we'd do it, and I buy this creature as green-blue, but I wish you'd found more ways to weave some blueness into this creature rather than basically just making a third green creature. So, props for figuring out how to make a third green creature, but a ding for not doing so while trying to find a way to still have the creature be blue in some regard.

Design 4

Whispers of the Unreal (mythic rare)
1UU
Wisps
Enchantment
Whenever you cast a spell, draw a card, then exile a card from your hand face down.
At the beginning of your end step, if five or more cards are exiled by CARDNAME, turn them all face up. Create an X/X blue Illusion creature token with trample, where X is the total converted mana cost of those cards. Sacrifice CARDNAME.

This is an appealing design. This might be too strong in a control deck, since you get to loot five times, and create a big creature at the end of a turn in which you destroyed all creatures. However, it has plenty of development knobs to balance this out. I think this is a good shot at a novel Constructed card.

Interesting card and looks fun. May be a bit too aggressive on rate. I think this can easily make an 8/8 or larger and since it's also fixing your hand, it's very efficient for three mana. The art and name look good to me.

Grade: B. Creating an Illusion creature was a good choice for this art.

I think this spell does just fine matching the art. My issues are more with the spell itself. First, the effect doesn't feel super blue. Yes, blue can make creature tokens, but giant-stat monsters usually aren't blue's thing. Second, we asked you to make an exciting enchantment and I feel you gave us a fiddly creature, meaning that I don't think this spell is all that "exciting" or particularly "enchantment."

Design 5

Bloodrite Fanatic (common)
B
Cauldron
Creature — Human Cleric
1/2
2, T, put a -1/-1 counter on CARDNAME: Target player discards a card. Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery.

This is a fine one-mana creature, with some utility.

Name, art, and abilities look good for this card. While the rate looks good on this card, I dislike repeatable discard at common. While in theory you are only doing this twice, Limited sets with -1/-1 counters as a main theme usually have ways to remove them. I don't think this is a fun card if it's happening frequently in Limited.

Grade: A. Solid name and creature type for this art.

Again, you did a fine job matching the art to the card. My issues are with the mechanics. First, as Melissa said, we tend to avoid repeatable discard at common. (True, without help, this creature can only make you discard twice.) Second, as both the cost and the discard effect are very black, I would probably put at least one black mana in the activation. Third, I probably would have made the creature cost a little more to avoid discarding happening too early. I do appreciate that you let the opponent choose the discard to avoid mana screw issues.

Design 6

Hellfire Oppressor (rare)
5BB
Huge
Creature — Demon
6/6
Flying
Whenever CARDNAME attacks, put a -1/-1 counter on each creature defending player controls.
Whenever another creature with a -1/-1 counter on it dies, draw a card.
It feeds on searing pain and terror.

Sets need rares that give players hope they can defeat the strongest players in a draft. This is one of those cards.

This slot was supposed to be a mythic rare. It definitely fits the description of a Timmy/Tammy rare creature, but the design is a rare not a mythic. Cool package, nice flavor.

Grade: B. The designer created a pretty good package between the name, mechanic, and flavor text.

I like this design. It matches the art and is a good execution of the mechanical requirement. This slot was supposed to be a mythic rare and you submitted a rare. I'm not sure whether you intended this to be a mythic rare and mistakenly typed "rare" or mistakenly designed a rare. I think I disagree with Melissa in that this could be a mythic rare, so in the end, I feel you met the requirement. This is the first slam-dunk for me of your designs.

Design 7

Seismic Hellion (uncommon)
4RR
Teeth
Creature — Hellion
5/5
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, you may sacrifice a Mountain. If you do, CARDNAME fights target creature with flying.

Another lovely place for reflexive triggers (on this card, not in the Hellion's mouth, ew). The card currently wants you to choose a target as the trigger goes on the stack, then players can respond, then all at once you sacrifice a Mountain or not, and they fight if you do. More people will play this instead as they immediately sacrifice a Mountain then pick a target creature to fight if so, then players can take actions knowing what will happen; that's what a reflexive trigger gets you.

We only put so many "kill a flier" cards in a set, and I generally reserve those for green cards.

This card feels green to me because it fights and kills fliers, and has the size and converted mana cost of a green creature. The art certainly looks like a red creature, but I don't think you designed a red card.

Grade: B. This is a good name with the mechanic.

The card and art match-up is great. I'm not sure why you need to sacrifice the Mountain, just make the effect always happen. As for flier destruction in red, red is number two in flying hate, although significantly behind green in the number-one slot. Secondary means you occasionally get it, so I'm fine with this effect being on a red uncommon.

Design 8

Reckless Bombardment (rare)
5R
Ship
Sorcery
Cast target instant or sorcery card from a graveyard without paying its mana cost. If it targets only a single permanent or player, copy that spell for each other permanent or player the spell could target. Each copy targets a different one of those permanents and players.

This card unsettles me with how many weird things it can do, but those weird things have good, clean rules answers. The issue I'm bringing up is that forcing players to cast a spell is pretty awful—tack a "you may" on the front.

This is an interesting Johnny card. It might be a bit much with Confiscation Coup, but this is a very exciting design.

To me, this art looks like a mass removal of some kind, but the card you made is more of a build-around combo card. I think the name matches the art but I don't think it mechanically matches the art/flavor. The design itself looks fun and interesting to build around.

Grade: C. This art looks more like a direct-damage spell.

This is another slam dunk for me. The design is cool and I feel it perfectly matches the art. Yes, it's showing a direct-damage spell being copied, but the copied spell has to be doing something.

Design 9

Seek the Ruins (common)
G
Mask
Sorcery
Choose one:
* Search your library for a basic land card, reveal it, put it into your hand, then shuffle your library.
* Return target land card from your graveyard to your hand.
"Searching for Ukoya Temple"
—Mugai expression meaning "lost in thought"

This is an interesting design. Commons give people hints as to what the set is about, so I wouldn't do the second effect at common unless the set has cards that put lands into your graveyard.

This hole was for a Limited card, but this is a weak effect for Limited. You're only going to be playing this if you're splashing a third color. I like the flavor and the art choice for the card you designed.

Grade: A. In general, we like to see more magical effects on a sorcery card, but with the name and flavor text, this feels like cohesive flavor.

These days we're more likely to have you search the top N cards of your library rather than your whole library, but all in all, I like this design, admitting that it's a bit weak. I probably wouldn't use the word "ruins" in the title when the person in the art is looking at "runes," but as this isn't the Great Card Namer Search, I think you'll be okay.

Design 10

Brutal Energy (uncommon)
2G
Leap
Enchantment — Aura
Enchant creature you control
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, enchanted creature must be blocked this turn if able.
Whenever enchanted creature deals damage to a creature, add that much G. Until end of turn, you don't lose this mana as steps and phases end.

This is interesting, but strange.

I like this art in the quirky Aura slot. The card is interesting and looks like a fun build-around. Appropriate rarity. I think the name matches the art well, but the art doesn't really look like the creatures are getting into combat. They are too happy!

Grade: C. The name is a good attempt to justify the art, but it doesn't sound like a green card.

Why not just make the ability happen all the time rather than just the first turn? This makes a cleaner card and ensures that the ability will happen more. While the tie to the art is okay, it's one of the weaker connections you've made.

Overall Judge Commentary

Your designs are very solid, and the overall quality is continuing to rise. If you keep progressing, you are in excellent shape.

I think you designed some really cool cards. The most interesting design you made was Whispers of the Unreal. As far as art and flavor goes, a lot of your cards were misses for me. Disconnected abilities, color pie mismatches, and art/mechanic mismatches. Overall, I think you did a good job in designing cards to match the holes we were asking for.

All in all, I think this was a good week for you. You mostly met the constraints and the cards you designed seemed fun to play. My biggest design note for you is you tend to add restrictions to your cards that I'm not sure they need. Unnecessary text adds complexity and often makes the cards less appealing, while good restrictions help promote interesting gameplay choices and enhance flavor, so be careful with your restrictions and make sure they're additive to your design. I'm happy that you listened to last week's feedback and had a broader range of designs. Good job!

CONTINUE 

Ari, the end is in view. The judges picked you as the winner for this challenge. While you've come in the top three before, this is your first win. You've been one of the more consistent designers in this competition. Keep your focus and continue creating cards that speak to you as a designer and I think the Top 3 is in your grasp.

Challenge #5

Judges

Eli Shiffrin

Erik Lauer

Melissa DeTora

Guest judge Ken Nagle

Mark Rosewater

Set: Scars of Mirrodin

Scars of Mirrodin has many things going on—it's a returning plane, it has an artifact theme that's historically difficult for us to execute, and a factioning layer of Mirrans versus Phyrexians (Go Phyrexia!).

Contestant Comments

I chose Scars of Mirrodin because of its deep, evocative mechanics and rich worldbuilding. I aimed to capture and expand on its themes while maintaining low complexity at common.

My pack suggests a metalcraft that is slightly easier to attain [9, 11] and gives some bonuses [2, 12] that are less swingy and math-y than +2/+2.

I found blue's color identity in Scars of Mirrodin Limited to be rather unfocused. In my pack, blue has stolen the "artifactfall" theme that white had with Glint Hawk Idol [3, 4, 9]. White already has a clear identity as the aggressive metalcraft deck, and blue's version is more controlling.

Notes on specific cards:

[3] Counters removal, resets Tumble Magnet, undoes Infect, etc.
[5] Looks fairly weak. Stronger with infect.
[7] A natural extension of red's artifact sacrifice theme. Also, prevents other colors from easily splashing red's best removal spell.
[8] A hidden modality card.
[9] Part of a cycle.
[11] Part of a cycle.
[13] Originally 4/4 with three counters, but 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10. Breaks the "no directly removing -1/-1 counters" rule, but without undermining infect's permanence.
[14] Exploration of the "artifact creatures matter" theme on Golem Artisan, etc. An aggressive Equipment card that infect can't abuse. If playtesting reveals frequent misreading, this could gain reminder text or switch to life loss.
[15] A "bigger Isochron Scepter," with less repetition and many tuning knobs.

I am, as always, grateful to my playtesters for their diligence and expertise.

Design 1

Mountain (basic land)
Basic Land — Mountain
T: Add R.

I prefer Forest myself.

Really? A Mountain. I would have gone with a Swamp, or an Island in a pinch, but really, you went with Mountain? Just kidding.

Design 2

Leonin Entangler (common)
1W
Creature — Cat Warrior
2/2
Metalcraft — Whenever CARDNAME attacks, if you control three or more artifacts, you may tap target creature.
Watermark: Mirran

This is a fine common reward.

This is an appropriate reward for a white aggressive metalcraft creature. I enjoy build-around two-drops at common, especially ones with no "enters-the-battlefield" trigger. You don't have that awkward tension of "Do I play my two-drop and lose value, or wait until the enters-the-battlefield trigger matters." I think this will not trigger until turn four on average, giving the opponent enough time to deal with it or your artifacts.

A clean and reasonable reward for metalcraft with the correct watermark. I appreciate the cheap 2/2 creature early that can help breakthrough later. Template should probably be forced tap of a creature an opponent controls for digital clicks. I notice this is similar to Vedalken Certarch, which feels too close in making a white-blue metalcraft deck too same-y, so negative points there.

I like that this card has a function early as an attacker and a function later as a means to help clear blockers out of the way. Good job.

Design 3

Reconfigure (common)
U
Instant
Exile target artifact or creature you control, then return that card to the battlefield under its owner's control.
Watermark: Mirran

Excellent! There are a lot of interesting synergies in the set.

A weak Limited card, but it has nice synergy in your set.

In New Phyrexia, I tried hard to put "creature or artifact" on plenty of cards to keep them from being too artifact insular—Apostle's Blessing, Geosurge, and Artillerize. I appreciate that. In addition to creature and artifact tricks, this card also hoses control effects like the uncommon Volition Reins. The watermark feels Mirran enough. Solid.

Flickering (exiling and returning) does have plenty of synergy with the set, but you made two mistakes with this card. First, we try to line up how our flickering works so either it returns right away or it returns at end of turn to not force players to remember in Limited which version they're playing. Glimmerpoint Stag is in the set and it flickers until end of turn, so Reconfigure should have matched that. Second, this effect probably isn't worth a whole mana, so I would have tied it to another effect; the most obvious is making it a cantrip.

Design 4

Vedalken Archivist (common)
1U
Creature — Vedalken Artificer
1/3
Whenever an artifact enters the battlefield under your control, target player puts the top two cards of their library into their graveyard.
Watermark: Mirran

Whenever I cast an artifact, I have to remember I have this card. That creates an ongoing memory burden. For that reason, I strongly prefer common cards with rules that only activate when I am already looking at that card.

This card is aggressive for a common. It's cheap, easy to trigger, and blue has ways of resetting artifacts in your set. Looks unbeatable and unfun in multiples. Self mill as a Limited strategy is okay and fun if it's at the right rate/frequency, but I would make commons with not as aggressive rates (Amonkhet's Compelling Argument is a good example), and leave the stronger, repeatable mill cards at uncommon (Hedron Crab, Sphinx's Tutelage). At this rate, your card will likely be the strongest thing to do in blue in Limited. Vedalken Entrancer in original Ravnica is a good example of this. It was repeatable mill at common on a defensive blocker and was the main way to win in Dimir. Again, strategies like this can be fun, but if your opponent plays an Island and the response is "Oh no, mill, guess I'm boarding in ten cards," that is probably not okay. I think the card looks like it could be a fun Limited uncommon build-around.

This "artifactfall" mechanic would be in greater quantities if it weren't for metalcraft. The stats are fine and the rarity implies you can go rather deep on decking opponents or milling yourself for profit. Sometimes we completely remove milling from sets if it's too much of a "trap," but I imagine there's plenty of artifacts and artifact-token-making for this to fit.

I like this card, but I would have changed two things. One, I agree with Melissa, I would have this be an uncommon as milling is potent in Limited and having this at common would make it too easy to collect a bunch in Draft. Two, I would have required mana for the ability to give Play Design a knob to balance the card and force the player to make more decisions when using it.

Design 5

Darksteel Slash (common)
1B
Instant
Target creature gets +1/+0 and is indestructible until end of turn. (Damage and effects that say "destroy" don't destroy it.)
Watermark: Mirran

Indestructible is Mirran. However, this plays better in infect decks, which are Phyrexian. That makes this a bit awkward as a common.

We use indestructible common combat tricks often in black. That said, indestructible is pretty weird in a set with infect, because the creature still dies. I don't think that interaction is intuitive for some players, so I would avoid indestructible. I remember confusion with pump spells and players feeling bad when they used pump to save their guy only to learn that it still died due to infect (and when Blight Mambas blocked each other). I don't have a problem with pump but when indestructible is present players will assume it works.

This is a neat effect for this set. Mirran Darksteel is how they gain indestructible, but the -1/-1 counters from infect defeat it anyway. Withstand Death is very similar at G, so creativity isn't winning here.

If you're using the darksteel flavor for this card, it needs to only target artifact creatures. (On Mirrodin, only artifact creatures are made of darksteel.) Probably I would have said "Target creature gets +1/+0 until end of turn. If it's an artifact creature it, gains indestructible until end of turn." I agree with Melissa that indestructible causes confusion with infect, so I would have considered a different bonus.

Design 6

Ish Sah Walker (common)
2B
Creature — Horror
1/3
Infect (This creature deals damage to creatures in the form of -1/-1 counters and to players in the form of poison counters.)
Creatures with -1/-1 counters on them can't block CARDNAME.
Watermark: Phyrexian

In this set, black infect creatures are supposed to have higher power than toughness.

I think this makes an interesting green card. Normally green only gets a bit of evasion, often from trample. However, infect creatures have lower power and are less likely to have infect, so using this to give green a tad of evasion interests me.

Looks like it could be frustrating common, because eventually this will be unblockable. On the plus side, it's pretty easy to gang block this. I think this card requires further testing. It's an interesting idea.

This is the coolest card so far. I always enjoyed attacking with Blight Mamba or Cinderbones knowing that, eventually, it would get through. This might play better in the 1/4 or 1/5 range at a higher mana cost, but I'll trust the playtesters here at 1/3. I designed Kulrath Knight, so I'm partial to more cards like it.

You noticed that in Scars of Mirrodin, the infect creatures were in black, green, and artifact, but you missed a subtler fact. To separate black from green, we purposefully made black infect creatures more fragile (their power is always equal to or greater than their toughness), so a 1/3 infect creature would be in green. The second ability isn't a great fit in green, but probably an allowable bend for this set, so I agree with Erik that this card needed to be green. Ignoring that issue, I do like the design.

Design 7

Junkheap Explosion (common)
R
Sorcery
As an additional cost to cast CARDNAME, exile an artifact card from your graveyard.
CARDNAME deals 4 damage to target creature.
Watermark: Mirran

At common, I would like people to be able to play their cards, so I would want a way of using this when they don't have an artifact in their graveyard, such as pay an additional four mana.

I think this is an interesting common; it makes me wonder how easy it is to get artifacts in my graveyard. It gets worse in multiples, which is a downside for a common removal spell. It would be frustrating to be unable to cast this.

This is a little sideways to, say, Kuldotha Rebirth, but I'll say it's a creative buddy. Good for Spellbombs. However, I feel this card would be swallowed by Galvanic Blast in a bad way. Different numbers perhaps.

I worry that one of red's common removal is so conditional on a particular play pattern. To get artifacts into your graveyard, you will need artifacts that sacrifice themselves (of which there are eleven at common, but many require specific colored mana to optimize) or artifact creatures (of which there are 20 at common). I would lean toward doing some amount of damage and having the option to exile an artifact to deal additional damage to the target.

Design 8

Venomous Grasp (common)
1G
Instant
Untap target creature. It gains reach and infect until end of turn. (It deals damage to creatures in the form of -1/-1 counters and to players in the form of poison counters.)
Watermark: Phyrexian

This has some interesting options. With infect, an interesting option is to give your opponent's untapped creature infect, so you don't lose life. That leads me to want to replace the "untap" text.

Does not look fun at common. It can kill out of nowhere for two mana. I hated losing to Untamed Might and would not have made that a common card, and I think this is in a similar space. With this card in the format at common, you have to block everything with the threat of something gaining infect at instant speed.

This trick seems scary to fight against. It appears to be defensive with an untap and reach, but I imagine killing opponents with surprise infect damage a la Tainted Strike. Perhaps the format does need more instant-speed infect, but I'm guessing it doesn't.

Black has a common instant that grants infect. We need to be careful how many of those we put in the set, especially at common. The ability is a lot scarier in green.

Design 9

Moonstone Locket (common)
2
Artifact
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, draw a card.
3U, sacrifice CARDNAME: Return target nonland permanent to its owner's hand. Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery.
Watermark: Mirran

This is a fine idea for a cycle, but not an exciting card to demonstrate the cycle.

Looks like this could be a fun cycle of commons. I liked the Spellbombs from Mirrodin and this is similar. That said, I think this effect is super weak and makes the card unappealing. For four mana, I don't think it needs to be sorcery. Or could be sorcery at less mana.

This appears to be hinting at another common "colored artifact" cycle called Lockets that aren't the Spellbombs or Replicas. I'm intrigued because I wonder what the other four could be. I'm less intrigued because this blue Locket appears to be right between Flight Spellbomb and Neurok Replica from the set. That said, a schematic for a cycle is valuable when making sets, especially for artifact commons.

I like that you recognized the problem of having reactive effects sitting on the battlefield and restricted this to your turn. We were very careful in Scars of Mirrodin to not make cantrip artifacts. The one artifact cycle we made that got you a card required you to spend colored mana when you sacrificed it. I like this cycle, but I would have probably found a reward other than card draw, maybe just a looting (drawing and discarding).

Design 10

Contagion Feeder (common)
3
Artifact Creature — Horror
3/1
Sacrifice CARDNAME: Proliferate. (You choose any number of permanents and/or players with counters on them, then give each another counter of a kind already there.)
Watermark: Phyrexian

Nice.

Looks fun and has interesting choices, but this is an on-board trick with no mana activation at common. I would either add mana to sacrifice or make this uncommon. We often take for granted how much on-board tracking there is in Magic for inexperienced players. It's not fun to lose to on-board tricks that you forgot about. The threat of sacking this whenever also makes it very hard to play around. I don't think this card follows New World Order.

This is rather nice in that I can imagine more to do with this card. It's often an onboard trick, but that's more true for +1/+1 counter sets than this -1/-1 counter set.

I like this card, but I would have put a mana cost on its activation. It allows down times for your opponent to deal with this card. Without a mana activation, I agree with Melissa that this would need to move to uncommon. And yes, as Melissa points out, this is red-flagged (it breaks a default rule and has to be overridden specifically by the lead designer of the set) by New World Order.

Design 11

Ghalma's Assistant (common)
5
Artifact Creature — Golem
3/4
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, if W was spent to cast it, create a 1/1 Myr artifact creature token.
Watermark: Mirran

The balance of strength doesn't feel right here; the card is so weak when you don't use white mana. The card could work if the base creature were a 3/3 with flying. In general, the base creature would need to be so impactful that the card would not make a great common. That points toward this being a member of an uncommon cycle.

Looks like a fun cycle of commons.

Here's another colored artifact cycle at common. Again, this hints at more and is a valuable skill for R&D.

This is an interesting way to get color relevance on an artifact. I like it. I agree with Erik that you want a better balance so there's the option to play this at times in a non-white deck.

Design 12

Neurok Sentinel (uncommon)
3U
Creature — Human Wizard
2/4
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, untap target permanent.
Metalcraft — CARDNAME has flash as long as you control three or more artifacts.
Watermark: Mirran

This is fine.

Fun card for blue, at the appropriate rarity and appropriate for the set. Nice!

Another nice design, but this time the reward feels large enough. Appreciate the "permanent" part here so it can work for creature blocking, a tapped artifact, or even a land for a mana refund.

While blue can tap or untap permanents, untapping creatures specifically is something we do in green. As flash is also in green, this should probably have been a green creature.

Design 13

Blighted Slith (uncommon)
GG
Creature — Slith
3/3
CARDNAME enters the battlefield with two -1/-1 counters on it.
Infect (This creature deals damage to creatures in the form of -1/-1 counters and to players in the form of poison counters.)
Whenever CARDNAME deals combat damage to a player, remove a -1/-1 counter from it.
Watermark: Phyrexian

I like the callback to the Slith from Mirrodin. This is great!

I really like your change to 3/3 from 4/4. This card is appealing and looks fun.

Here's a Phyrexianized Slith! That's some neat worldbuilding right there. The card itself can level up a couple times. This is a swingy card. It's swingy simply asking for GG on turn turn, then it pushes opponents who couldn't find an early defense by mounting infect damage. At least it kills in . . . five turns? Most two-drops don't kill in five turns, and this set has Equipment. When played later, the 1/1 creature might play closer to a -1/-1 counter on one opponent's creature. Your opponent might proliferate to kill it, though! There are a few people in R&D who greatly dislike snowball cards, but at least this card caps itself at 3/3.

I like this design. It creates a fun little quest for the player to try and accomplish. I agree with Ken that it might be a touch too aggressive.

Design 14

Firelance Gauntlet (uncommon)
2
Artifact — Equipment
Equipped creature gains vigilance and haste.
Whenever equipped creature attacks, if it's an artifact creature, CARDNAME deals 3 damage to defending player.
Equip 2
Watermark: Mirran

You should take into account the other Equipment in the set. Accorder's Shield grants vigilance, and Strider Harness grants haste. I might use trample and +1/+0 instead.

This card doesn't look fun. It's at a pretty aggressive rate. I can kill my opponent with just this and not even have to deal combat damage to them; that seems like a negative to me. I think there are rate adjustments we can make on this, but I'm not convinced that the changes lead to a fun and appealing card.

Equipment was first introduced in Mirrodin, so I'm happy to see one here. This one is generous to artifact creatures themselves, which I enjoy. We have to stat artifact creatures worse than colored creatures, so I'm happy to see cards like this give them a boost. Nice uncommon and gives me a reason to beeline artifact creatures.

This seems a bit strong as a repeatable effect.

Design 15

Isochron Staff (rare)
2
Artifact
Imprint — If an instant or sorcery spell would be put into your graveyard as it resolves, instead exile that card.
5, T: Copy a card exiled by CARDNAME twice and cast those copies without paying their mana costs. Put that card into its owner's graveyard.
Watermark: Mirran

The rest of your cards play very safe in terms of rules complexity, then this one jumps out of the water like a metallic whale. And even this one looks fine, templating quirkiness aside; it does things we've done before. You'll need to not force players to cast spells—stick a "may" on casting the copies. You should also think about putting the card you'll copy into your graveyard as part of the cost to avoid wackadoodle edge cases.

This is a terrific rare to call back and give an interesting Johnny card.

I think this card looks very cool and appealing. The biggest appeal is that you don't have to exile a card from hand, making this less of a risk of a two-for-one once this is in play. I think the rate is a bit off (five mana for two spells repeatedly. Once you cast your first converted mana cost 3 spell with this, you are already ahead). I think the idea is interesting.

Imprint cards are great fun because of how customizable they are. This card plays very different in a burn deck or a token-making deck. Many imprint cards require a card disadvantage payment upfront, but this one is worded with extra upside for simply casting your instant and sorcery spells. It's nice to push instant and sorcery cards since most of Scars of Mirrodin is pushing artifacts on the battlefield. Very fitting rare, imprint card, and Mirran card all in one. The name even implies another card, Isochron Sword (or Wand), a mythic artifact with imprint that makes even more copies of an imprinted instant/sorcery (maybe X copies?).

This seems like an exciting rare and an interesting use of imprint.

Overall Judge Commentary

This is a solid set of cards, and my favorite of the week. I have enjoyed seeing your progress over the course of this contest.

Overall, I think you did a great job with your cards. I enjoyed your common cycles. I think you had great uncommons. You only had two real misses for me, the indestructible combat trick, because I don't think it belongs in the infect set, and the repeatable common mill card. Overall, great stuff here.

All in all, I feel there's not enough "could go in the set" but more than enough riffs on existing lore, which is great for a "return to" set like Scars of Mirrodin.

The judges selected yours as the best design for this challenge. You did a great job of matching the tone and mechanical feel of Scars of Mirordin while introducing some new concepts. You missed some of the subtler parts of the design, but it's the kind of stuff that only people who actually worked on the set would have caught. A good way to finish your final design challenge.

CONTINUE 

Ari, it should come as no surprise that you've made it to the final three. You've been one of the most consistent designers this whole competition, so I'm looking forward to getting to meet you in person. Congratulations!

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