Guest judge Ken Nagle
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!).
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:
 Counters removal, resets Tumble Magnet, undoes Infect, etc.
 Looks fairly weak. Stronger with infect.
 A natural extension of red's artifact sacrifice theme. Also, prevents other colors from easily splashing red's best removal spell.
 A hidden modality card.
 Part of a cycle.
 Part of a cycle.
 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.
 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.
 A "bigger Isochron Scepter," with less repetition and many tuning knobs.
I am, as always, grateful to my playtesters for their diligence and expertise.
Mountain (basic land)
Basic Land — Mountain
T: Add R.
Really? A Mountain. I would have gone with a Swamp, or an Island in a pinch, but really, you went with Mountain? Just kidding.
Leonin Entangler (common)
Creature — Cat Warrior
Metalcraft — Whenever CARDNAME attacks, if you control three or more artifacts, you may tap target creature.
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.
Exile target artifact or creature you control, then return that card to the battlefield under its owner's control.
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.
Vedalken Archivist (common)
Creature — Vedalken Artificer
Whenever an artifact enters the battlefield under your control, target player puts the top two cards of their library into their graveyard.
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.
Darksteel Slash (common)
Target creature gets +1/+0 and is indestructible until end of turn. (Damage and effects that say "destroy" don't destroy it.)
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.
Ish Sah Walker (common)
Creature — Horror
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.
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.
Junkheap Explosion (common)
As an additional cost to cast CARDNAME, exile an artifact card from your graveyard.
CARDNAME deals 4 damage to target creature.
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.
Venomous Grasp (common)
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.)
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.
Moonstone Locket (common)
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.
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).
Contagion Feeder (common)
Artifact Creature — Horror
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.)
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.
Ghalma's Assistant (common)
Artifact Creature — Golem
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, if W was spent to cast it, create a 1/1 Myr artifact creature token.
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.
Neurok Sentinel (uncommon)
Creature — Human Wizard
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, untap target permanent.
Metalcraft — CARDNAME has flash as long as you control three or more artifacts.
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.
Blighted Slith (uncommon)
Creature — Slith
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.
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.
Firelance Gauntlet (uncommon)
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.
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.
Isochron Staff (rare)
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.
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.
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!