Great Designer Search 3 Finalist – Chris Mooney

Posted in Feature on March 9, 2018

By Wizards of the Coast

Trial 2

Scored 73/75

Trial 3


Eli Shiffrin

Erik Lauer

Melissa DeTora

Guest judge Ethan Fleischer

Mark Rosewater

Design 1

Champion's Belt (rare)
Enchantment — Aura
Enchant creature
Enchanted creature gets +2/+2 and has menace and vigilance. All other creatures have 2, T: Fight enchanted creature.
When enchanted creature dies, attach CARDNAME to a creature it fought this turn.

The Aura will be in its owner's graveyard by the time the trigger to attach it resolves, so you'll have to also bring it back out of that graveyard. This is easy to write for this card, but be careful about your timing when you're dealing with Auras.

There is an excellent idea here. I am not sure the last ability will work well (a creature that just fought the champion might not be around to win the belt). It looks like Eli has some ideas though how to make that work.

This has cool flavor, but I don't think I want to play a creature Aura with a downside like this. I can't play this if my opponent has a creature bigger than mine.

This is what I like to call a Leaden Fists design. It's unclear whether you're supposed to cast Leaden Fists on your own creature or on an opponent's creature. While some players appreciate the tricky choices involved, many players are simply confused by cards like this. I appreciate that a card with a less-than-intuitive mechanic was placed at rare, but I'm pretty skeptical that this card has broad enough appeal to make the cut in a Magic set.

This card needs a bunch of tweaking, but I really like the bare bones of it. I think Magic gets a few quirky rares that you have to think how to optimize it in a deck. It's also super flavorful.

Design 2

Keeper, Underworld Warden (mythic rare)
Planeswalker — Keeper
1: Exile up to one target creature card from a graveyard.
-1: Target player reveals their hand. You choose a nonland card from it. Exile that card.
-2: Exile target permanent.
When CARDNAME leaves the battlefield, at the beginning of the next end step, return each card exiled with her to its owner's hand.

Often planeswalkers create a problem in that removing them is so critical that their presence on the battlefield leaves no interesting decisions. Your design however allows the player to hedge and exile creatures from their own graveyard, making the opponent think twice about destroying it. This design is a winner.

Having a dies trigger on a planeswalker is interesting, and this design gives both you and the opponent a good amount of tension, which will lead to fun gameplay.

None of this card's abilities interact with each other; even the -1 ability exiles the card from hand so you can't exile it from the graveyard later with the +1 ability. The rate on this card seems very strong to me; it can exile two permanents or four cards from hand for only four mana. The +1 ability is irrelevant under most circumstances, and probably won't be activated unless the opponent has already been completely stripped of resources. There is little for me to like about this design.

This is the first planeswalker design I've ever seen with a death trigger. I like how each of the abilities connects to the death trigger. I also like that it's a planeswalker where its controller will occasionally choose to kill it on purpose. I'll disagree with Ethan and say, all in all, this card is a nice little package of a design.

Design 3

One-Shot Saboteur (common)
Creature — Human Rogue
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, look at the bottom two cards of your library, then exile one face down.
When CARDNAME deals combat damage to a player, put the exiled card into your hand.

This is a fine design, except I would stick to the top two cards of your library, especially on a common.

I dislike looking at the bottom two cards because it uses more dexterity and is just more time consuming that looking at the top. This can easily just exile the top two cards and not change the functionality. Cool common!

I like the idea of a one-shot saboteur. We played around with this in Magic Origins with the renown mechanic and it was a lot of fun. I too don't really understand why we're mucking around with the bottom of the library here, but I could imagine an environment with a lot of scrying or something might want to do this.

I agree with the other judges that there's not a strong reason to look at the bottom of your library. This card could also be done as mono-blue. I do like the flavor though.

Design 4

Borrowed Time (rare)
Untap all permanents you control. Draw a card.
Skip your next beginning phase. (The beginning phase consists of the untap, upkeep, and draw steps.)

This is a clever Time Walk variant, and it fits the color pair very well.

This looks really scary. This is the kind of card where if you are casting it, you aren't doing anything fair. This is the type of card that the Play Design team will probably ask for a redesign after playing with it for a few hours. I'm not sure what good a card like this will do.

This is an interesting design, essentially letting you take your next beginning phase a turn early. This looks strong in a combo or storm deck, stronger than Time Warp. I could imagine that this is a mythic rare and it probably wants to cost another mana or two.

I like this design a lot. It's flavorful, combines old abilities in a cool new way, and will make players think about what to do with it. I respect though what Melissa is saying that this card might not actually make it to print for Play Design reasons. I like though when designers explore unknown space. Many of the cards get killed, but the ones that make it through tend to be memorable.

Design 5

Shared Custody (uncommon)
Enchantment — Aura
Enchant creature
You control enchanted creature.
At the beginning of each combat phase, enchanted creature's owner chooses if it will attack or block this turn if able. (You still choose how it attacks or blocks.)

Any time you're having multiple players work together on something happening, that sets off a bunch of little red warning bells. In this case: What if the owner says "It attacks!" but it costs 2 to attack? What if they say it doesn't attack but an effect says it attacks if able—does the choice pipe through the normal systems of restrictions and requirements, or is it intended to be part of combat declarations? Let's cut the knot and make it easy!

At the beginning of each combat, enchanted creature's owner chooses one—

  • Enchanted creature attacks or blocks this combat if able.
  • Enchanted creature can't attack or block this combat.

This does not excite me. I suspect the typical set lead would just cut this card. It has triggers to remember each turn, and in a fair number of games all those triggers will amount to nothing more than a Pacifism with dead weight.

Interesting idea, but I dislike that I have to stop every combat to resolve this trigger, especially when most of the time this will not be attacking. This rate is really, really strong. Three mana Control Magic is not appropriate, even when it never attacks or blocks (consider creatures with strong non-combat abilities). Also, this is more rare than uncommon.

So, 99% of the time this is just a complicated Pacifism variant? I don't really think that the extra 1% of gameplay justifies this card's existence.

This card feels more blue-red than white-blue. Blue and red, not white, are the colors that normally force things to attack or block. Also, I too am not sure how much fun this card is. I believe both players will get annoyed by it. Finally, stealing things is not great to do too cheaply, as it leads to people stealing and sacrificing things rather than using it as designed.

Design 6

True Love's Kiss (rare)
Put a love counter on each of two target creatures controlled by different players. Destroy all Auras attached to those creatures, then untap them and gain control of them until end of turn.
Put CARDNAME onto the battlefield transformed.
The Power of Love
Legendary Enchantment
Creatures with love counters on them have haste and lifelink. They can't attack players who control creatures with love counters on them.

This card is so wordy, and I don't think its effect is worth the cost of using all those words.

Overly complex and wordy. I'm not sure why this is a transform card and not just an enchantment with an ETB trigger. In a two-player game, the end result is we each have a creature that can no longer attack. That does not seem like a fun card, and the card is not strong or cool enough to justify the large number of words.

I don't really understand why this is a double-faced card instead of an enchantment with an ETB trigger. I like the idea of putting a love counter on each of two creatures, and then applying some ability to creatures with love counters on them. This is a flavor I've tried to capture without success a few times in the past, and this looks better than the Auras I designed with "Enchant two creatures" written on them that got killed during Theros design.

We asked you to make cards for a Standard-legal set. This is a multiplayer card that doesn't particularly work well in a two-player game. This card is also a lot of words, many of which aren't carrying their weight. Finally, I feel like this is a card that reads flavorfully, but doesn't play all that well. So, mostly a miss for me.

Design 7

Violent Thoughts (uncommon)
Exile the top two cards of your library. Each of those cards deals 2 damage to any target. If you are dealt damage by a card this way, put that card into your hand.
If violence isn't the answer, you're asking the wrong question.

Burying the "target" like on this card leads to players following a simple, logical, and incorrect play pattern: exile the top two cards of your library, see that you need targets, choose the targets now . . . But targets are always chosen as a spell is cast. You have a few different options, depending on the design you want: lead with "choose two targets" and work from there; have the exiled cards each deal 2 damage to "a creature or player" after you see the cards and don't target; or use the new "reflexive trigger" technology introduced on the Amonkhet card Heart-Piercer Manticore to pick targets after you see the cards.

I like the combination of card drawing, damage, and interesting choices here.

This looks awesome. It's super flexible in that I can draw or deal damage depending on what I see. I think this card is strong and exciting enough to be a rare, and not uncommon.

This template looks bizarre and doesn't work the way you want it to (you have to choose the targets before you see the cards), but it can be retemplated using reflexive triggers to achieve the desired effect. This card will appeal to the Spikes in the audience, who like flexible, decision-intensive cards like this.

This design is an interesting mix of effects. I like how it can skew black or red depending on how you use it. Thumbs up!

Design 8

Friendly Treefolk (uncommon)
Creature — Treefolk
Vigilance, trample
Prevent all combat damage that CARDNAME would deal to creatures.
A treefolk is a friend to all, be it plants or elves or tiny squirrels.

The interaction between damage prevention and trample is often misunderstood, so seeing a card that leans heavily on those rules raises some eyebrows. (I keep extra eyebrows in a box in case I need to raise more than two.) Will it make players realize how the interaction works because the alternative would be silly? Will they just get confused and give up?

This is delightful.

Looks like a fun deck-building challenge. I am concerned about Limited board clogs with this. I think this could go on a cheaper/bigger body and be more appropriate at rare.

The flavor of this creature trampling over small creatures, yet not harming them, is a bit off. I don't really like how this design shines a light on the interaction of damage prevention and trample. I think it will be confusing to some players. I do feel like there's some potential in the idea of a creature that can't deal damage to other creatures, and would probably iterate on it in a design team meeting to see if we could find the right design.

I agree with Eli that this card would confuse a number of players. (You have to deal damage to the creature equal to its toughness and can only trample with the remainder.) The card is cool if players understand how it works, but that's a big if. I agree with Ethan that I would tweak it to remove the potential confusion.

Design 9

Kwil, Spell Lord (mythic rare)
Planeswalker — Kwil
Whenever you cast an instant or sorcery spell, put two loyalty counters on CARDNAME. Then you may activate one of his loyalty abilities.
-3: Choose target instant or sorcery spell. If that spell is blue, draw a card. If that spell is red, CARDNAME deals 2 damage to any target.
-5: Copy target instant or sorcery spell. You may choose new targets for the copy.

Kwil is either secretly still restricted by the "once a turn" rule of loyalty abilities, or he requires rewiring the loyalty ability rules entirely to let him activate them more than once each turn. It'll need a galaxy's worth of attention one way or the other.

This is interesting as a card, but feels too much like an enchantment.

A planeswalker that can't be used in its usual way does not feel like a planeswalker to me. The idea is interesting, but I am sad that I can't activate these at sorcery speed. I agree with Erik, this is more like an enchantment than a planeswalker.

The more I look at this card, the better I like it. It uses a triggered ability to push into genuinely novel space for a planeswalker design, using loyalty abilities that would only work at instant speed. I'm a little concerned that you don't want to curve out into this card; you really need to have a Shock or a cantrip in hand ready to fire off as soon as this hits the battlefield. This card is a potential engine card in a deck full of cantrips, but it has plenty of "knobs" (points where we can tweak the power of the card), so I think the set designers could probably work with it.

I respect that you're trying to push planeswalker design into new space, but you're definitely meddling in dangerous territory. This is the kind of card that would be cool if it worked, but most often doesn't quite have the functionality you want. This card also sets off alarm bells in my head, and I would make sure with Eli that it can be written on a card.

Design 10

Deathmatch (common)
Target creature you control gains deathtouch until end of turn. That creature fights target creature you don't control.
The world doesn't pull any punches. Why should I?

At first glance, this looks like a mono-green card, as all the text fits in green. But it is such a pure kill card that it can't be a mono-green card, and must be black-green. This is a great card, and an excellent common.

This can be a mono-green card, and is not much different than Prey Upon. The added flexibility here is cool, but still not black.

While this is technically something that we could do as a mono-green card, I don't think that we ever would; it's a violation of the spirit of green's color pie. I like it much better as you've submitted it here, a black-green multicolored card. I also like this as a sorcery; we don't want to create too many potential blow-outs in Limited. I suspect that the cost on this card is correct as well. Nicely done!

This is an interesting card. On the surface it seems mono-green. Green has deathtouch and green has fight, but we tend to not put them together because the combination doesn't feel green. What color does it feel? Black. A-ha! Extra points for subtlety.

Overall Judge Commentary

You have a strong overall set of card designs. Generally your cards are functional and have some novelty, and I am hopeful that they will overall improve. There isn't a single item I see as your path to improvement. For now, I believe you will improve by experience, and specific critical feedback.

I liked a lot of your cards, but your rarities were a little off. While they were simple effects, you didn't consider how they affect actual games. All the uncommons you submitted looked more like rares, even if they didn't read very splashy. Cards that you designed for multiplayer should still work well and be fun in single-player games (unless you are specifically designing for a multiplayer set like Conspiracy). Overall, there was a wide range of simple versus complex, and nothing was overly complex besides True Love's Kiss. Overall, I felt positively about your cards.

Your designs are over-complicated. While game designers are supposed to put puzzles to solve into their games, they are still designers and should seek to strip out unnecessary elements. Two important questions to ask yourself: Is there a simpler way to implement this mechanic? Is the purpose of the card clear? There's a good amount of true novelty in your submissions, but not as many solid, straightforward designs as I'd like to see. Impress us in future shows with commons and uncommons with an obvious purpose, cleanly expressed. Next time skip the flavor text, please. That's a different team's job.

One of the things I monitored in the design tests was how many cards would lead the design team to try new things. You do well in that category. You have a lot of innovative ideas and you pushed mechanically in mostly interesting spaces. My biggest issue with your designs is that you didn't have enough respect for the craft of design. It feels as if you do things more because they haven't been done than because that execution is what leads to the best gameplay. You put cards on the bottom of the library, for example, because it's novel rather than that was what would make the card play best. What I want to see in future designs is that you keep that enthusiasm for novelty but use it to enhance your designs and not detract from them. Use it judiciously where it adds to the card's gameplay and not when it gets in the way. You have a great sense for flavor, but less so for practicality. You are another candidate who will benefit a lot from playtesting. Show me that you can make Magic cards that read well and play well.

Challenge #1


Eli Shiffrin

Erik Lauer

Melissa DeTora

Guest judge Alexis Janson

Mark Rosewater

Tribal Choice: Ooze

Contestant Comments

Oozes are an incredibly evocative tribe, but their wide variety of executions over only a handful of cards meant having to invent a new identity for them. Oozes have historically been mostly green with a few notable appearances in black, but flavor and two existing legends meant blue would also be expected. Though Oozes are often represented by X/X tokens, shifting toward +1/+1 counters opened up more design space to represent their ever-growing and modular nature (while also cutting down on memory issues).

Oozes are known for growing both tall (often with counters) and wide (often with tokens). Exploring the intersection between these two led to devour. Though not the most popular mechanic, devour combines both their counter and token themes while being an absolutely perfect flavor fit. In this imagined Limited environment, Ooze decks would either look to generate value by devouring small creatures with death triggers, or build critical mass by accumulating and sharing +1/+1 counters between themselves.

This challenge I put a lot of focus on playtesting and keeping the cards easy and fun to play with. I even designed a number of extra commons and uncommons to simulate a Limited/casual deck. This implementation of Oozes can definitely lead to some overwhelming board states, but simpler supporting cards helped to keep things reasonable. More importantly, players had tons of fun shifting the counters on their Oozes around like mad scientists.

You can all thank Ethan for the lack of Ooze-pun flavor texts on these cards.

Design 1

Nutritious Slime (common)
Creature — Ooze
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield or dies, put a +1/+1 counter on target Ooze you control.

This is a very good implementation of a common Ooze. It has synergy with other Ooze, but works on its own.

I love this. Nice rate and tribal reward for a common.

I suspect this would end up in a non-Ooze deck a lot, as a bear that occasionally gives out a second counter. That's a good thing in moderation, especially at common. Designs like this help keep Limited from becoming solely about playing 20-plus cards that share a creature type. A solid nuts-and-bolts common all around.

I like this design. It's simple and flavorful and it's in the right color mechanically. It's also plays well into your larger mechanical theme.

Design 2

B-ooze-ster Shot (common)
Put two +1/+1 counters on target creature. It gains hexproof until end of turn. If that creature is not an Ooze, remove those counters at the beginning of the next end step.

Counters have to be interchangeable with any other counters of the same kind, so referencing "those counters" is a little squishy. You'll want to "remove two +1/+1 counters" from the creature. That means Doubling Season would let you keep extra counters, but do you really want Bounty of the Hunt's wording to dodge that case? I mean, maybe you do! That's a conversation for you and your editor.

I like the idea here. However, I think I would rather give a non-Ooze +2/+2 until end of turn, both to reduce memory issues, and so the creature doesn't die. It is important to try and keep the bookkeeping lower when possible.

I think this is a hard-to-parse common. This card also has a timing problem. If you save something in combat, and then remove the counters at the next end step, the creature will die from lethal damage. I think that is setting players up to fail, and should be avoided, especially at common. Or, it is telling you to not target non-Oozes, which also seems wrong. You could remove the counters at the next upkeep, but that has tracking issues. Not a successful design.

This has mechanical issues. Your creature will lose its toughness boost before damage is removed, making the toughness boost a trap. I'd also consider removing the hexproof, as this spell is already doing one thing and there's no need for it to do a second. Even without hexproof, the strength of this reward strongly pushes players to evaluate cards almost solely based on their creature type.

There are a number of execution issues to deal with as noted above (I'd probably have done this as a modal effect), but I like the general sense of the card. It makes use of what we call a "reverse bonus" where it takes away something from things not of the subtype rather than grant it as a bonus. I like how the spell is useful to a non-Ooze deck, but has more utility the more Oozes you have. I agree with Alexis that it doesn't need to grant hexproof. Finally, you show a knack for awesome playtest names.

Design 3

Recycling Slime (uncommon)
Creature — Ooze
Devour 2 (As this enters the battlefield, you may sacrifice any number of creatures. This creature enters the battlefield with twice that many +1/+1 counters on it.)
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, if it devoured a creature, return target Ooze creature card from your graveyard to your hand.

This is a great use of a mechanic from the past. Returning an Ooze is a good tribal reward.

When making cards with choices, it's important to make the choices matter. In this case, I would never cast this as a five-mana 3/3. The bonus is so strong that I am always going to wait to devour something. Some solutions to this problem are: making this have a relevant ability on the battlefield, make the reward not as strong, or make the base rate a little stronger, such as 4B 4/4 with devour 1.

I consider devour a risky choice, as I don't believe it did great as a mechanic (I know I didn't enjoy it) and it's also pretty narrow in diversity of play experiences. There's a lot of ways to design a devour card, but they all start from the assumption that you have one or more creatures you are willing to sacrifice. I like how you're exploring "threshold one" devour here, where the first creature gives you the most value, but that's just exploit (which also wasn't a home-run mechanic). Like most exploit cards and many devour cards, you give back a card's worth of value in exchange. I think this overall package would be fun to play, but this design doesn't convince me to bring back devour.

An important skill for a Magic designer is to know when to bring back a mechanic that enhances your design. While I'm not the biggest of devour fans, I do feel that it's a perfect fit for what you're doing with Oozes (it interacts with both +1/+1 counters and tokens). It's flavorful and mechanically plugs into the larger picture. I also like that you wove in some creature card recycling to help maintain the Ooze expansion on the battlefield.

Design 4

Slime Time (uncommon)
Put a +1/+1 counter on each creature you control. Then you may redistribute all the +1/+1 counters on Oozes you control. (You may move +1/+1 counters from any Ooze you control to any other Ooze you control any number of times.)

That reminder text is telling me that if I have Doubling Season I can double counters indefinitely. Lovely! It's somewhat ambiguous, though; can I switch two +1/+1 counters from two Oozes so each gets two? I'd make the answer clear: "Then you may remove any number of +1/+1 counters from among Oozes you control and distribute that many +1/+1 counters among any number of Oozes you control."

For some players this is very fun, and appropriate for uncommon. However, the number of players who want to do this much bookkeeping isn't all that high. For digital, this might take a very long time to resolve. While this is very thematic, it is also "over the line" in terms of the amount of work this creates, and I doubt it would see print.

Looks interesting and fun, but very narrow and fiddly. In theory there are an infinite amount of ways to distribute counters, but most of the time you're going to be piling everything onto one thing. Looks like it will take a while to resolve. I would look to simplify this a bit, something like "put a +1/+1 counter on each creature you control, then you may move any number of counters onto an Ooze you control."

Redistributing all counters is a cool design that feels like it is just waiting for the right environment to slot into. This feels very on-color, but I'm not convinced Oozes make sense in mono-blue, and the existence of this card implies there would be some. You missed an opportunity to show us what a mono-blue Ooze design looks like compared to green or black Oozes.

In general, I like this design, admitting that it's a bit fiddly (and as Erik says, it has big digital ramifications that would have to be addressed). I have two other issues though. One, I'd prefer you weight this spell so it is useable outside of a dedicated Ooze deck. Right now I can't see a non-Ooze deck playing it, at least at this cost. For instance, if you put on two counters (and adjusted the mana cost accordingly), the weight is a little more on the counters and less on the moving of them. That would encourage other players to occasionally draft this, for example. Second, this spell makes it harder to have creatures that trigger when they get a +1/+1 counter put on them. I might make the movement more restrictive ("move any number of +1/+1 counters from any Ooze creatures to target Ooze") to allow those triggers to exist.

Design 5

Famished Fen (rare)
Devour 2 (As this enters the battlefield, you may sacrifice any number of creatures. This land enters the battlefield with twice that many +1/+1 counters on it.)
T: Add C
1, T: Add G, U, or B. If this mana was spent to cast an Ooze creature spell, as that creature enters the battlefield you may move any number of +1/+1 counters from CARDNAME onto it.

Wow, this is a great combination of abilities. The activated ability not only says what the tribe is about, but conveys the color combination.

Devour is pretty weird on a land, as it can't be responded to, but the design here is very interesting. I dislike it on a land because of the tension around lands that you want to play late in the game. I really want to hold onto this to be able to use the devour, but I also want to play my lands to cast my spells. I think this design would be really cool on an artifact.

This design intrigues me, but I'm not sure this offers enough payoff for the inherent card disadvantage and mechanical baggage. This card is probably fair, because lands have a much lower bar to clear to be included in a deck. I'm just not excited to do this thing, and there's a lot of fiddly bits and decision points to support doing this not-very-exciting thing. Make your complexity pay off.

Putting +1/+1 counters on a land is interesting. I'd playtest it to make sure it doesn't cause too much confusion. I think the second ability could just move counters from Famished Fen onto Oozes, I'm not sure you need the rigmarole of having to filter color and then cast an Ooze with the mana from this card. I also know that restrictive mana is an issue with the digital team because it requires tracking what mana gets used for what spell.

Design 6

Corrosive Touch (rare)
Enchantment — Aura
Enchant creature
When enchanted creature deals combat damage to a player, sacrifice CARDNAME and destroy target nonland permanent that player controls.
If enchanted creature is an Ooze, it has deathtouch and trample.

If the permanent you target with the triggered ability gains hexproof, the ability won't resolve— and that means you won't sacrifice Corrosive Touch. This is a wonderful place to stick a reflexive trigger.

This is an excellent flavorful design. If you make the sacrifice mandatory, there can be game states where the player will choose not to attack. That can lead to some dull games, so I would make the sacrifice optional.

This is an interesting removal spell. I wish it was a may to sacrifice. It would be sad to have a deathtouch trample creature and then be forced to lose that after the attacking, especially if my opponent has no worthwhile permanents I want to kill.

We really don't like highlighting the strange interaction between deathtouch and trample, although we could at least make reminder text to help. All told, this seems like a lot of words and complexity to get a slight discount on Maelstrom Pulse. I'll admit that it also feels a bit forced, with no relation to your other cards other than its affinity for larger creatures. Not excited by this one.

This is a neat and flavorful twist on Acidic Ooze (although to continue a trend, extra fiddly). I like that it grants the Ooze abilities to get it through. My one complaint is that I wouldn't put deathtouch and trample together on the card. We've learned that the interaction is confusing, so we tend to avoid putting the abilities together. I get that you made this rare for that reason, but there probably is a second ability you could stick with deathtouch (maybe menace). As this is rare, it wouldn't even have to be a keyword. I'd also consider stalking ("This creature can't be blocked by more than one creature").

Design 7

Cell Divider (mythic rare)
Creature — Ooze
Whenever an Ooze you control with toughness 2 or greater dies, you may pay 1. If you do, create two 0/0 green Ooze creature tokens, then put +1/+1 counters onto each of them equal to half of the original Ooze's toughness, rounded down.

The Ooze designer keeps having weird things come up with Doubling Season, what a surprise! With this card, a 4/4 Ooze dies into four 4/4 Oozes. Are you sure that's something you're okay with?

All your Oozes splitting in two is a very appealing mythic rare. I would not be surprised if this is absurd with a permanent toughness boost, such as Glorious Anthem. Creating that many tokens, each with +1/+1 counters, is going to have an extreme amount of bookkeeping. The number of people who will enjoy reading this is going to exceed the number who enjoy games with this in play. I would limit this to nontoken Oozes dying.

There is a lot of math involved in this card, and this is hard to parse on a first read. First, you have to understand that it only triggers when you have certain size Oozes, then you have to pay 1, then you have to do a bunch of division and rounding. In the end, you're going to have a bunch of different-seize creature tokens, all with counters, which leads to tracking issues and massive board complexity. I think a more successful execution is to make this into a super Mitotic Slime that recurs in some way, to give you the feeling of infinite Oozes. I don't like the mana cost in the trigger. I don't think you need it. It adds complexity and makes it a less exciting mythic rare.

I'm disappointed that the 6/6 becomes a 3/3 and then either stops (because the ability is gone now) or doesn't divide evenly (if you've played another copy). It's probably good that there's a mana payment for a shields-down moment, although it feels off from a flavor perspective. I believe all previous cards that "split up" like this have been free of mana payments. We've done enough "splitting" cards that this doesn't feel particularly innovative, but it looks fun to play and is thematically appropriate.

This design is darling. I wish there was a way to avoid the "toughness 2 or less" rider, but I don't think there is. I like you using +1/+1 counters as markers rather than forcing the players to have memory issues. I like the interaction with this card and devour. I assume the set would have a few other sacrifice outlets built in. My one negative note is that this is yet another very fiddly card with lots of memory issues. You don't get to make very many of these in a set, way fewer than have been turned in for this challenge.

Design 8

Dr. Ooze's Lab (mythic rare)
2G, T: Create a 0/0 green Ooze creature token then put two +1/+1 counters on it.
Whenever an Ooze enters the battlefield under your control, you may pay UB and exile a creature card from a graveyard. If you do, that Ooze enters the battlefield as a copy of the exiled creature card except it's still an Ooze.

The copy-a-creature effect can't work as a replacement effect (it has a mana cost) or as a trigger (you want it to happen before the creature has already entered). The overall design is doable, but you'll need to pick which pieces are most important so we can make it actually work.

This has cool elements on it, but I think the memory issues are very difficult. The problem is large enough that I suspect this would become a reanimation card, not one that makes tokens.

This is an exciting design, but really hard to track over long games. I think it's doing a little too much; if it had a five-mana activation and made an Ooze with counters that's a copy of the exiled card, it would be easier to process and be just as exciting.

So, basically, this is The Mimeoplasm pre-attached to a Soul Foundry? This excites me. Ignoring the rules issues (because I think the rules knowledge to avoid this design is outside what I would expect from a designer), I really love the variety of interactions here.

I'm less in love with this mythic rare design. The flavor of Oozes being copies is not very resonant. Having an artifact that requires three different colors to optimize is far from ideal. The design also has a weird tension where your deck needs Oozes and non-Oozes to copy. This is one of those designs that is probably much more fun to think about than to actually play. And again, this design is fiddly and complex, complete with memory issues.

Overall Judge Commentary

Your designs are very appealing. However, the bookkeeping issues with some of the cards are very large, which makes them less fruitful overall. You are hitting the note of why people would love Oozes, which is the right way to go about designing. However, you also need to think about what issues are so large that you must tackle them. Often the problems you, as the designer, should solve are based on the experience of the opponent. The player playing Oozes doesn't mind the bookkeeping, but there might be a lot of people who need to see the creatures they are facing, which is why they are playing a card game. A lot of players don't enjoy playing against a bunch of tokens with dice on them, and you did nothing to ameliorate the situation.

You have a lot of interesting ideas that lead to a lot of unexplored design space. Some of your cards were very complex and had tracking issues. There is a lot of fiddly-ness with some of your token-making and +1/+1 counter–distribution cards. We want to avoid "pennies on nickels," or too many different tokens with +1/+1 counters.

I respect that you pushed yourself into some risky territory with devour and blue Oozes, but unfortunately you missed delivering on both. You had a few cards I'd really like to try out (Slime Time, Cell Divider, and Dr. Ooze's Lab) and cards that hint at a fun way to play Limited. Overall, I'd love to give this theoretical Ooze tribal set a try.

My love of Oozes is well documented, so you definitely were playing to at least one of the judges. You did well, coming in third for this challenge. Your designs were flavorful and inventive, and definitely made me want to go build an Ooze deck. On the downside, you had the most fiddly-ness and memory issues of any of the designers this week. Part of being a great designer is finding ways to capture your vision through elegant and easy to understand designs. You get a handful of craziness each set, but you're dipping a little too much into the "wacky bin." I want to see you take this wonderful creative energy, but make sure to wrap it in designs that are a bit more practical.


Chris, you're one of the designers to improve this week over last. You have a wonderful energy with your designs, but you're going to need to learn how reign it in a little. Make me smile, but do it with a design I can definitely print.

Challenge #2


Eli Shiffrin

Erik Lauer

Melissa DeTora

Guest judge Aaron Forsythe

Mark Rosewater

Contestant Comments

My approach was to determine flavor identities for the five colors:

As [this was] a top-down challenge, I purposefully designed cards that would represent these themes instead of directly synergizing. This is a sample platter of what you'd see in my Bigtopia.

I chose exalted to represent performers collaborating to boost whichever act is in the spotlight. Only one exalted card remains, but support cards (Acrobatics, Unicycle) still play into that theme.

This week I focused on ensuring my cards were fun to play both with and against. I also tried to reign in my complexity, channeling it into only the most fun and flavorful effects. My playtesters thought these cards were a blast, and I hope you agree.

Traveling Circus – Green's "exotic" theme encouraged lots of colors. This is a weak fixer for Limited, but savvy players can use it to get ambitious with double off-color splashes.

Unicycle – Playtesters' favorite. Easy to grok, incredibly fun, balanced trade-offs. "How does a Wurm even ride a unicycle?"

Knife Thrower – This card has a lot of variance, but testers had so much fun flipping the "knives" that they didn't mind the whiffs.

Tightrope – The idea of "balanced creatures matter" came early on, but lots of testing went into avoiding common pitfalls (mid-combat math, non-interaction, layers!). Eli might ding me for my templating here, but I hope the second ability is simply "non-traditional" rather than "non-functional." White – Showpeople, ensemble Blue – Skilled performers Black – Seedy sideshows Red – Daredevils, thrill seekers Green – Exotic animals

Design 1

Acrobatics (common)
Target creature you control gains flying and prowess until end of turn.
Draw a card.

Watch out with sorceries granting prowess—you can't say "I cast a sorcery this turn so +1/+1." It also makes different creatures with prowess count up differently. Pay close attention to whether this is being misplayed.

This is a fine, yet unexciting card. One-mana cantrips, especially in blue, can have a cumulative Constructed impact. Generally, we only want so many of those in Standard at any given time, and I don't think this generates enough value to occupy such a slot, so, if this was in one of my sets, I would immediately replace this card.

Definitely feels like Acrobatics, and a pretty cool effect. Invisible prowess is hard to track, don't think I'd do this at common. I wouldn't like to see two of these played in a turn in Limited, especially in digital.

I dig it. Playing it by itself is a sorcery Leap, which is a playable card, and a fine display of acrobatics, but when you start chaining it with other spells, the prowess kicks in, making it truly impressive. And "prowess" is a word often used to connote high ability in acrobatics. Wonderful card.

This design split the judges. I'm with Aaron though—I like it. It's flavorful and simple (although Eli is correct that there's some potential for confusion about this counting itself; I'd probably include reminder text). I like that you made it cheap to allow you to cast other spells for prowess. We have to be careful how many commons we make like this, but I think this would be worth a spot.

Design 2

Traveling Circus (common)
Enchantment — Aura
Enchant land
Enchanted land has "T: Add one mana of any color."
Whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control, you may attach CARDNAME to that land.

A green common color fixer should be a card that one would play in a typical green Draft deck looking for color fixing. This is a card that the typical deck should not play, because you are down a card. I would immediately replace this card.

Pretty cute for flavor, but I think this card doesn't really do enough. It has a lot of fiddlyness (moving it around every turn, multiple triggers from things like fetch lands and Explosive Vegetation). Overall, it's a weak effect (consider Abundant Growth), and not worth the complexity for what little it does.

From a cool card to a card that does very little. I think trying to make the concept of a traveling circus into an enchant land that moves around is the right direction, but this card does so little that it won't be worth the reading and fiddling, and certainly isn't "worth a card" in gameplay terms. I'd never put this in a deck. Maybe there's a way to power it up properly, but this initial attempt isn't good.

While I appreciate the flavor of the design, I agree with the others that this card doesn't seem like something most players would use. Also, it doesn't seem particularly common, in that we tend to put cards that repeatedly move at higher rarities.

Design 3

Ringmaster (uncommon)
Creature — Human
Whenever Ringmaster or another creature enters the battlefield under your control, that creature gains exalted until end of turn. (Whenever a creature you control attacks alone, that creature gets +1/+1 until end of turn for each instance of exalted on permanents you control.)

This will often generate a similar effect to a 2/2 exalted creature, but in a way that will confuse a lot of players. I would change this to an exalted creature, and ask for something flavorful to add.

Pseudo 3/3 due to an auto stat on "enters the battlefield." Might be too strong. Doesn't really feel like a ringmaster to me.

I think temporary exalted is probably fine and at an appropriate power level, but something rubs me the wrong way about making the ringmaster an uncommon. I think he should be a powerful, central character, and be a card you're excited to open, not some run-of-the-mill half-decent Limited card.

I like this design capturing the flavor of the Ringmaster announcing new creatures entering the battlefield (although I agree with Aaron that a ringmaster sure seems like a rare or mythic rare card). I'm less convinced that exalted does a good job of capturing the flavor of the circus. Other than the confusion issues listed above, I do think this card would play well.

Design 4

Unicycle (uncommon)
Artifact — Equipment
Equipped creature has haste, menace, and attacks each combat if able. Its base toughness is 1.
Equip 1

This is very funny and flavorful. It is my favorite card of your set.

Appropriate rarity, but way too aggressive on rate (The first creature I play gets haste and hard to block for only for one mana).

This card does a good job of representing an Equipment with a difficult physical balancing act. The card reminds me of Hot Soup, so I'm automatically going to like it, plus the equip cost of 1 is perfect for the one-wheeled artifact. I actually think Equipment is more correct than Vehicle for unicycle, as Vehicles tend to care little about who is actually inside of them, whereas Equipment plays more into the creature's stats and abilities.

This is a good example of how the judges can deviate on how we view top-down design. In contrast to Aaron, I wouldn't print a Unicycle as an Equipment now that Vehicles exist. It is literally a Vehicle. I get that you couldn't use crew as you chose exalted as your non-evergreen keyword, but that just means I wouldn't have done Unicycle if I were you. Ignoring that issue, this design doesn't particularly read as Unicycle to me. I like the equip 1 and I can buy haste and the toughness reduction, but what about it is menacing or would force someone to attack? This design gets a thumb down from me.

Design 5

Knife Thrower (rare)
Creature — Human Rogue
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, exile the top card three cards of your library face down. (You can't look at them.)
Whenever CARDNAME attacks, turn one of the remaining face down exiled cards face up at random. CARDNAME deals damage to target creature equal to that card's converted mana cost.

You . . . you actually put the "Throwing Knife Problem" on Knife Thrower! I love it! Remember, if you first mention "target" after revealing hidden information, it will be misplayed more often than not. You can lean into the randomness by explicitly requiring a target first (Choose target creature. Turn one of the . . . damage to that creature . . . etc.) or you can avoid the issue by using a reflexive trigger. Did you also intend that Knife Thrower must throw knives at itself if it's the only creature? Might want to only target a creature an opponent controls.

The turning-up ability could be optional so you can attack when your opponent does not control a creature. However, this will still have too strong of a random impact. I would change this to a 3/3 that throws knives at your opponent. That would keep a fair amount of randomness, and would preserve excitement.

The flavor does remind me of a Knife Thrower. I think there is too much randomness on this card. You aren't making a meaningful choice when you target a creature, because you are just revealing the card randomly. Sometimes it will kill a creature, sometimes it won't. The times it kills a large creature will be very swingy. I don't think this card is fun.

I see that your playtesters enjoyed the variance of this card, but I don't think that would hold up. There are a couple things I don't like here. The biggest one is the post-decision randomness—you choose a target, then flip the card. Oops, I did 3 damage to your 2/4. The other is the randomness with a really low floor. I could attack, do 0 damage to something (pretty likely), and then lose by Knife Thrower in combat. In general, I'm not a fan of disguised dice-rolling with stakes as high as this card offers. Save the dice for Unstable.

The flavor here is spot on, but the play pattern isn't particularly fun. As others have mentioned, having to target before you know the amount of damage leads you to just killing small things most of the time. Also, making this an attack trigger feels wrong to me for a circus knife thrower. Finally, echoing others, it should only hit the opponent's creatures. All in all, there's elements I like here, but combined and executed incorrectly.

Design 6

Juggling (rare)
CARDNAME enters the battlefield with three ball counters on it.
At the beginning of your end step, draw a card for each ball counter on CARDNAME. If you have more cards in your hand than your maximum hand size, sacrifice CARDNAME and discard your hand. Otherwise, put a ball counter on CARDNAME.

This feels like a good fit for the color pair, and the sense of juggling. This has an exciting drawback that you can build around.

I think the design is interesting. Looks fun in older formats with no maximum hand size effects. I dislike the discard your hand here. You're investing a lot of mana for this effect. If you end up discarding your hand it will result in huge feel-bads (for example if you only draw lands and expensive spells and are forced to go to eight cards). I would change the drawback, maybe sacrifice this and take damage. Another alternative would be to keep the card as-is but cost it less. I feel the drawback is too much to be worth six mana. Overall, the design is cool, and something the Play Design team can work with to make it a fun Constructed card. Flavor is great here.

Now this I love. At worst, it's a six-mana draw three, so it has some general use. From there, it offers a unique challenge, one that will shape gameplay and deck building for people wanting to maximize it. And the flavor is great. Can you get to seven balls? Eight? Looks really fun!

This is my favorite of your designs. It hits the sweet spot of awesome flavor and cool gameplay. My one note is I would have chosen a number, probably seven, rather than "maximum hand size," as it adds vocabulary for minimal gain.

Design 7

Sawdin Half, Divisive Magician (mythic rare)
Creature — Human Wizard
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, target player sacrifices a creature. Create two X/X black Horror creature tokens, one where X is the sacrifice's power, and one where X is the sacrifice's toughness.

Each instance of X on a card has to be the same, so you're going to have to use a fabled Y! We try to avoid Y because X is weird enough, but on a card like this where you can quickly glaze over the letter, especially on a mythic rare, it's fine. But consider that if there's no sacrificed creature, should we get two 0/0 creatures (and any abilities that trigger on that) or none?

This would take a 4/4 and create two 4/4s, which makes this not really saw in half. This is also way too punishing against big creatures. This card is hard to fix, so I would cut it from a file.

Flavor is on point here, but I'm not understanding how big the tokens are by your template. The power and toughness should be halved, right? Or am I getting a token with P/T equal to power and one equal to toughness? Regardless I like what the card is doing.

I like a lot about this card. The flavor is very close, and might be perfect. ("Did you know your Carnage Tyrant was actually a 7/7 and a 6/6 crammed into a little box?") It being mythic rare might allow for the level of blowout potential this card offers. At worst, he's a 2/2 and a 4/4 for six mana (now that's a magic trick). And you can always build your deck to maximize using it on yourself. I want to saw Mitotic Slime in half!

I'm not fan of this making two different creature tokens that are each similar but different in size. I would have chosen one attribute and made both half of that attribute. This way you get your joke, but the tokens are easier to track. Also, since no one else mentioned it, I like the punny name.

Design 8

Tightrope (mythic rare)
Creatures you control have vigilance.
Creatures can't attack or block unless their power and toughness are equal.
1: Target creature you control gets either +1/+0 or +0/+1 until end of turn. This ability may be activated by any player, and only during the beginning of combat step.

Since you asked, that second ability is totally functional. Somewhat confusing, since it could easily be read as all attackers needing the same power or toughness, but Editing can work with that to alleviate the potential for misunderstanding. I'm not being super nitpicky on templating for these challenges unless there's something interesting going on like Sawdin Half up there, or unless the template choice is load-bearing, so don't worry too much about that. Similar to real design work, the finer details of templating is a topic for your editor much later in the process. Worry about whether your cool ideas can work, not whether you used the right words.

I like the flavor of creatures needing to be balanced to walk across. This needs clearer rules so people know they can only change the stats of their own creatures.

This card looks very unfun. It will become all about who keeps mana open during their turn. I dislike this as an artifact (this effect is usually white), because it can go in every control deck. Overall while the effect looks interesting at mythic rare, I don't think this will lead to fun gameplay.

Aaand . . . we end with a dud. Yes, I misread this card at first (as did many of the judges), but even once it was explained to me, I doubt I'd want to put it in a deck, and I really doubt I'd want to open it as a mythic rare in a pack. It feels like a card that escaped from Prophecy.

In the middle of the judge meeting, it became clear that half of us misunderstood how this card worked. That's usually not a great sign. This card is another that has flavor but lacks good gameplay.

Overall Judge Commentary

Some of your cards are very nice with great novel game play. However, there is inconsistency. The most pressing concern, strangely, is with templating. You do not need to template perfectly for rules purposely. You do need for judges to know what you want the card to do (and judges might on occasion misinterpret, even if your text parses correctly). In the case of Tightrope, people might not reach the correct conclusion of what the card does. I would, in the notes, say "you can adjust the stats of your creatures, your opponent can adjust the stats of their creature, but not yours."

Overall, I think you succeeded in making top-down designs that tell a story, but not all of the cards looked fun to play. I also think your mythic rares were too difficult to grok. Despite the complexity level being appropriate, I had to reread your cards more than once to understand what you meant (specifically, Juggling and both mythics). Especially with Tightrope, most of the judges didn't understand what it did at first. I would recommend having your playtesters read your wordier cards and then tell you what they do. If they have to read it a second time, or get it wrong the first time, you may want to think about finding another way to template your card, or lower the complexity a bit.

I really liked half of your cards, which puts you in the top batch for me. You had one really good design at each rarity, which bodes well for your ability to contribute to Magic sets.

You were the most polarizing designer this week. Half of the judges put you at the top of their list (first or second) and the other half put you at the bottom (second last or last). I think you had a lot of great ideas, but I think your execution was off on many of them. I think most of your cards were things we could turn into amazing designs, but the GDS is more about showing what you're capable of than what we are. I see great potential in you Chris. (Juggling is one of my favorite designs overall this week.) You keep coming up with cool ideas that are a step or two away from being realized. What I want to see is you taking your designs the extra step and making them the cool thing rather than the potentially cool thing.


Chris, you have great ideas, but they're often overly complicated, or fidgety, or create awkward gameplay. Use this next challenge to show us that you can execute your strong ideas and make them solid, playable designs.

Challenge #3


Eli Shiffrin

Erik Lauer

Melissa DeTora

Guest judge Jules Robins

Mark Rosewater

Contestant Comments

This week, my inspiration came from D&D. I enjoy the simplicity of the Rogue's "sneak attack" ability (even if it doesn't always make sense fictionally). I wanted a mechanic that let your creatures hit harder if your opponent was distracted.

Originally, backstab gave +1/+0 for each other unblocked attacker. This made combat math impossible; your opponent's attackers would change size dramatically depending on how you blocked. While a bit less flavorful, the final version is much simpler—you only need to make one check (can I block every attacker?). As a static ability, it's less wordy and avoids excessive triggers (expecting/accepting slight confusion about post-combat interactions).

The sneaky flavor of backstab pulled it toward blue and black, two evasive colors in need of a combat keyword. Red was a natural third color, due to backstab's aggressive playstyle. I'll admit that a creature-boosting mechanic is a slight bend in blue, but I feel it's acceptable due to the emphasis on evasion and the direct control designers have over the size of the boost.

Taking your feedback to heart, my goal this week was to submit a straightforward mechanic that wouldn't need major reworks to see print. Backstab is simple, versatile, and mixes well with familiar mechanics at all rarities. You already know I can think outside of the box, this week I hope to prove that my ideas from inside the box can be just as fun.

Alternate playtest names: Shank, Sideswipe, Blindside, Pierce, Feint, Juke

Design 1

Rusty Rogue (Common)
Creature — Human Rogue
Backstab 1 (This creature gets +1/+0 as long as you control one or more unblocked attackers.)

I like the design of your mechanic. I am a fan of this particular common. It is easy to understand, and demonstrates how powerful this mechanic can be.

This is a great common design for your mechanic. Not as strong on rate as a 1/1 deathtouch creature, but a great upside if you can backstab. This will create fun blocking decisions.

This design does a nice job of putting your opponent in a catch 22 while remaining simple, and deathtouch is a lot more fun on creatures that have a reason to be attacking. It even does a bit to cut down on board complexity here since an opponent blocking this doesn't have to worry about whether or not a 2-toughness creature will survive. Good common!

Let me start by saying, unlike the other judges, I'm not a big fan of backstab. It's the kind of mechanic that seems innocuous at first, but becomes hard to track when you start having a lot of creatures on the battlefield. The combinatorics of blocking decisions quickly becomes unwieldy. I do appreciate though that you kept it as simple as possible and didn't alter toughness, which would have made the math even more difficult. I would have liked to see at least one common be a vanilla version. Deathtouch is actually not a great pairing with backstab because it doesn't make the power bonus relevant; it's really no different than a 2/1 with deathtouch. Backstab works better when the power variance means something in combat.

Design 2

Stunning Spy (Common)
Creature — Human Rogue
Backstab 1 (This creature gets +1/+0 as long as you control one or more unblocked attackers.)
Whenever CARDNAME deals combat damage to a creature, tap that creature. It doesn't untap during its controller's next untap step.

This is very well placed; it gives your opponent an interesting decision of whether to block or not.

Again, I think this card and mechanic make for interesting blocking decisions and this looks like a fun common.

This card claims to be doing very much the same thing as the last one, though it's more likely to stay back on defense and slow the game to a crawl. It's showing us less of a new angle on how the mechanic might play than if this had been a French vanilla 1/4 (which would have showed off "attack with creatures that will bounce off blockers to get something through" gameplay).

A 1/3 with a saboteur ability (it triggers an effect when it deals combat damage) is also a bad pairing with backstab. Everything about the card says "block me," and with only 1 power, that's seldom not the right call. You want effects to team with backstab where the opponent feels they have a difficult choice. Also, I wouldn't have started adding attack triggers until uncommon.

Design 3

Stab-Happy (Common)
Enchantment — Aura
Enchant creature you control
Enchanted creature has first strike and backstab 2. (A creature with backstab 2 gets +2/+0 as long as you control one or more unblocked attackers. Creatures can have multiple instances of backstab.)

While there are potentially interesting choices here, I suspect the main choice is to not play this card. After the number of lands in my deck, and creatures to create interesting backstab scenarios, and creature removal cards, there are very few slots left in the deck.

Very weak card to play if you're behind. I am not a fan of offense-only Auras. I wouldn't play a one-red Aura that granted first strike in my deck. I don't think this card is worth printing.

One of backstab's challenges is its potential to blow out the player trying to use it. If you attack with enough creatures to get one through, the defending player might shrink a bunch of your creatures with a well-placed Shock. When Backstab is only pumping power, that can only take what would be creatures trading to one dying and the other surviving, or what would be one creature killing another and surviving to those creatures bouncing off one another. First strike makes the mechanic essentially grant toughness as well, which means you can get a full reversal from one creature "winning" combat to "losing" it. That potentially doubles the blowout, and with Auras doing the same, you've gone from a scenario where Shock might trade for two cards instead of the usual one to a scenario where it might trade for four. That's a bigger swing than we've generally found to be enjoyable.

I like you branching out with your mechanic on an Aura. My biggest issue with this card is the introduction of higher backstab numbers. Remember how I said the blocking math could get complicated? Now you have to remember not just which creatures have backstab but which creature has which version. And if you were going to do higher backstab numbers, common isn't the place to start doing it.

Design 4

Vampiric Rogue (Uncommon)
Creature — Vampire Rogue
Flying, lifelink
Backstab 2 (This creature gets +2/+0 as long as you control one or more unblocked attackers.)

This is a good, appealing design.

A recurring thing I'm seeing here is that this mechanic is offensive only. That is not always a bad thing, but it does mean that this mechanic plays very poorly if you're behind. If you're losing and topdeck a four-mana 1/2 flier, you aren't going to do a good job in catching up.

Backstab synergizes powerfully with strong evasion abilities (like flying). We'd undoubtedly end up printing a backstab flier or two, but letting players combine another flier with a backstab creature will generally feel more rewarding, so I'd lean toward avoiding it. Lifelink already has a cool synergy with backstab scaling power, and actually needs to appear on the same card to work. Those considerations aside, this card is nigh un-raceable in Limited.

Evasion creatures are good to have in a set with backstab, but I agree with Jules. Having evasion on a creature with backstab makes it a little too easy.

Design 5

Skulking Stabbist (Uncommon)
Creature — Human Rogue
Backstab 1 (This creature gets +1/+0 as long as you control one or more unblocked attackers.)
Creatures you control can't be blocked by creatures that have greater power.

Where the heck do you go to school to become a stabbist? Anyway, this card is strongly implying that backstab applies before blockers are chosen. It's the kind of thing you'll want to avoid with the current version of the keyword.

A weakness with your mechanic is knowing whether you control an unblocked creature. In particular, when I declare attackers, are they unblocked before blockers are declared? Some people won't know, so making a card where they need to know is a mistake.

I like what you're going for here. This uncommon will win many limited games, but it's expensive/fragile enough that it can be dealt with easily. This card is much stronger than it looks.

This card puts backstab's biggest confusion point front and center. Many people will assume that they control an unblocked attacker once they've attacked but the opponent hasn't declared blockers yet, and also that this condition is checked at that time. The reality is that nothing is unblocked until after blockers are declared, at which point it's too late for this ability to interact with backstab. I'd be hesitant to introduce this confusion as an interaction between cards in the set, but creating this confusion self-contained on a single card is completely unprintable. Even without that confusion this card would be very complex to process.

Now we're adding in comparative math with a mechanic that changes power. And remember, blocking matters on the power at the time of blocking, not after blocking has been declared. This means you will have creatures blocking creatures that they couldn't have blocked moments before, leading to even more confusion.

Design 6

Card Sharp (Rare)
Creature — Human Rogue
Backstab 2 (This creature gets +2/+0 as long as you control one or more unblocked attackers.)
Whenever CARDNAME becomes blocked, draw cards equal to its power.

For the same reason given before, some people will think they get to draw three cards, so this design is a mistake.

This card is very interesting and makes me think about what I can do with it. It's so weak when it's not attacking or you don't have a way for your creatures to break through. This card looks fun with some stat tweaks.

This card brings up many of the same questions as the above, though at least this one will actually work the way people would guess. It certainly has a big dream, though ultimately one your opponent has complete control over, so this card is just weaker than Latch Seeker.

Finally, you did a "when blocked" trigger which does play with backstab, but then you make it reference power, the thing that might change based other blocking decisions. Did you playtest with all these cards together? Each design seems to make combat math harder and harder to calculate.

Design 7

Startle Pest (Rare)
Creature — Goblin Rogue
Haste, menace
Whenever CARDNAME attacks, creatures you control gain backstab 1 until end of turn. (They each get +1/+0 as long as you control at least one unblocked attacker. Creatures can have multiple instances of backstab.)

This Signal Pest callback is a fine design.

This card is hard to process. It's a more complex version of battle cry. It's hard to understand that it usually attacks as a 1/1. Most players see stats before abilities and this card reads unappealing until you read and process it.

This card has an appealing dream, especially since the go-wide deck it promotes is naturally good at presenting more attackers than the opponent can block. Menace makes doing backstab math much harder, but rare is a reasonable place to put the two together.

Now we're adding backstab to creatures that may not have it as well as to ones that do. I do appreciate this design in a vacuum, but when you pull back to look at the larger environment, this is yet another backstab card that will make figuring the combat math more difficult.

Design 8

Gang Leader (Mythic Rare)
Creature — Human Rogue
Other Rogues you control have menace.
Backstab X, where X is the number of unblocked attackers you control. (This creature gets +1/+0 for each unblocked attacker you control.)
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, create three 1/1 black Rogue creature tokens.

This is fine, though it feels more like a rare to me.

I like this design; if you remove backstab it's a cool and appealing mythic rare. Adding backstab just gives it more power. My biggest issue is how hard backstab is to process. There is just a lot to think about. (This can be blocked and still get the trigger, and only one guy needs to get through, etc.)

This backstab X text is a good twist for a high-rarity card, and this one certainly goes all out self-enabling it. The rate on this seems reasonable, but having so much of the card's effective stats split up among places that aren't in the bottom right corner makes it look weak on rate (which tends not to make for broadly appealing mythic rares). I'd try trimming something to give this a more appealing body.

This mythic rare is exciting and flavorful, but it just made the complexity of tracking combat go through the roof. You just gave every creature with backstab evasion (all your creatures were Rogues, so the assumption is that all backstab creatures are Rogues—your designs set a pattern that is assumed to be true) and then created a variable backstab that isn't set until you calculate the number of unblocked creatures. You went from complicated to brain-melting.

Overall Judge Commentary

Attacking creatures aren't unblocked until they have a chance to be blocked, so the backstab buff won't apply earlier in combat. You should either make it a triggered ability ("Whenever one or more creatures you control attack and aren't blocked"), change the condition to be unambiguously boosting creatures before blockers are declared ("This creature gets +N/+0 as long as you control an attacking creature that hasn't been blocked this combat." perhaps), or make sure that there's no way to make that weirdness matter around your set (like Fling). Avoiding additional triggers for digital, as you noted, is definitely a concern—but it's far from the most important concern.

I like your mechanic. You have some very interesting card designs, with good decision points. You have a few which require more detailed knowledge of game terms, and I would replace those. I am very impressed with how much you accomplished in this difficult task.

This mechanic makes me ask a lot of rules questions. What happens if I have an unblocked creature, then it gets destroyed later in combat? Does this stat boost only last during combat or for the remainder of the turn? While people who are good at the rules (like those in R&D) will know the answer to these questions, many players will not, and likely play these cards wrong. I'm not sure it's fun in mass quantities because it can be snowball-y if you let one guy through, but a blowout for you if your unblocked creature gets killed in combat. I think the fact that any creature needs to get through is interesting. I think this is solvable by making the ability a triggered ability instead of a static one. It cleans up a lot of rules questions and solves the other issues I had. For my individual card notes, I assumed that we'd just make this a triggered ability that triggered after blockers were declared.

Backstab has the potential for some pretty fun gameplay, forming A+B combos with evasion, incentivizing go-wide decks, or enabling tempo-based plans that clear out blockers. It plays well with numerous Magic cards from the past, and overlapping enablers gives players a good reason to build a backstab deck. The flavor doesn't quite ring true to me, but I don't think it's untenable (alas, the name "flanking" was already taken). The binary version was definitely the right choice here, though the mechanic has more blowout potential than we might want against instant-speed removal. The mechanic's biggest issue is that players don't know exactly what it means (plenty of people have tried to swap in Ninjas before blockers). These misunderstandings are most problematic when they cause players to actually disagree about game state, but in the context of a whole Standard environment that would be a lot to steer clear of. I don't think that's a death knell since it would be possible to avoid in a Limited environment, but the fact that you included Skulking Stabbist leads me to believe that you didn't consider the confusion at all. The individual designs here are mostly solid, though as you noted, not terribly novel.

The judges selected you as having the second-best design. As you can tell from my comments, I was the dissenting opinion. I actually had you near the bottom. I worry backstab would be too hard to process, especially given a lot of design choices you made with your individual designs. I get that you were trying to find a way to fix frenzy, but I don't think the mental cost is worth the flexibility. In general, I find mechanics that force you to monitor a different permanent of the battlefield doing a particular action to be problematic. I prefer when the card with the mechanic is the card you need to monitor doing the action. My big advice from this week is to make sure that you're testing how hard things are to track in playtesting. The trick I would use is for the first playtest to keep your playtesters blind to the cards until they draw them in game. (In the real world, you would get fresh playtesters to test first impressions.)


Chris, I can see you focused this week on having more playable designs (although as I said above watch how hard your designs are to monitor), but in doing so had a little less innovation than previous weeks. For next week, I want you to find more of a happy medium between trying new things and making your designs playable.

Challenge #4


Eli Shiffrin

Erik Lauer

Melissa DeTora

Guest judge Jenna Helland

Mark Rosewater

Contestant Comments

  1. Enables a flicker deck, but also works with the exile removal commonly seen in white. Pallet: Eerie Interlude, Long Road Home, Suspension Field
  2. A more interactive Thalia effect that leaves windows open and requires constant attacking. I would let Play Design hammer out the best stats. Pallet: Urbis Protector, Ondu War Cleric, Student of Ojutai
  3. "Until end of turn" felt too low impact; "detain" version played much better despite small memory issue.
  4. Worded so you can trigger ETB effects, as most testers misplayed "landfall" wording.
  5. I could see bringing back monstrosity for a core set environment. In a pinch, you can "hard code" the ability without the keyword. Pallet: Thallid Omnivore, Qarsi High Priest, Plague Stinger
  6. Letting your opponent get a main phase takes a lot of the teeth out of controlling them, while still exciting Timmy/Tammy. Pallet: Belzenlok, Demon of Dark Schemes, Herald of Anguish
  7. This slot was the hardest to fill, and this art was the hardest to utilize. Telling a story about the creature's relationship to its environment helps justify the framing. Pallet: Stampeding Horncrest. Framing: Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh; Altac Bloodseeker
  8. Added the self-shock for flavor and utility outside the combo. Makes use of black's shift away from life loss. Pallet: Bloodsworn Steward, Bloodmad Vampire, Convicted Killer
  9. Wanted a hunting/tracking card that actually found a path to a creature.
  10. Thank my playtesters this doesn't have a Y on it. Framing: Predatory Urge, Savage Hunger

Design 1

Glimpse the Void (Uncommon)
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, exile two target creatures. At the beginning of the next end step, return those cards to the battlefield under their owner's control.
Whenever a permanent is exiled by a spell or ability you control, you gain 1 life.
"I've seen the other side, it beckons me to return."

Caring about what causes things to change zones isn't pleasant—Leyline of the Void won't trigger Glimpse the Void, which is probably something you want to avoid. I think we can tinker in this space, but be aware it's not as easy as it looks.

This is an interesting card, but most sets don't have enough cards to support an exiling deck.

I don't see how this is a build-around for Draft. This card isn't telling me what kind of deck to build. The card itself is very narrow and I don't think it is playable in Limited (what this hole is for). I also think that the name feels more black than white.

Grade: C. It's challenging to call this a white card or an enchantment. The name and flavor are good with the mechanic, but the art feels disconnected.

This art is a total disconnect for me. The creature doesn't seem white, so it can't be the caster, and if it is the victim of the spell, there needs to be two of them to match your mechanic. Regardless of the art, my biggest note about this design is that it feels jumbled. The connection between the two parts is tenuous (just overlapping mechanically is not always enough to make parts of a card feel connected). Also, what deck are you encouraging players to draft? An "exile matters" deck? Without a lot of tweaking (like Battle for Zendikar), most sets don't have that much exiling. If you want to tie into flickering, I would trigger off creatures you control entering the battlefield. That's something you can build around without having to warp your set design to make it work.

Design 2

Mist-Shaper Monk (Rare)
Creature — Human Monk
As long as CARDNAME is tapped, noncreature spells your opponents cast cost 1 more to cast.
After years of studying alongside aven battlemages, his biggest takeaway was the importance of cloud cover.

This is a very interesting Constructed shot.

I think this idea is good, and the flavor looks good. An appropriate design for Spike.

Grade: B. The name and flavor are clever, but they push the card in a blue-aligned direction.

I don't think you get dinged for a mismatch with the art, but you don't score many points for mechanic/flavor synergy. Cheap white rare creatures with static abilities is a frequently tapped design space. This design seems functional if a little unexciting. I'm intrigued by the idea that the creature has to keep attacking to stay "turned on," but this ability seems a bit lackluster to encourage constant attacking.

Design 3

Amphin Shaper (Common)
Creature — Salamander Shaman
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, until your next turn, target creature loses all abilities and becomes a blue Turtle with base power and toughness 1/1.
"The amphin have no qualms reshaping the surface to match their vision. To them, such transformations are merely progress in action."
—Gor Muldrak, Cryptohistories

I have found that setting the base power and toughness creates significantly more rules questions than a shrink effect. Because of that, this effect is usually uncommon.

This is a good art choice for a blue non-evasive creature. I think that making something lose abilities until your next turn is too much tracking for a common. Generally, for commons, you want effects that last until end of turn, and to stay away from things that you and your opponent have to remember later. I like the card, I just think it wants to be a higher rarity.

Grade: A. The name, flavor, art, and mechanic tell a nice story.

The art seems a decent fit for your mechanics, although I would have turned the creature into a 1/1 Snake to play into the snake imagery in the art. I agree with Erik and Melissa that this is an uncommon creature rather than a common. We simply don't do permanent changing at common. At the right rarity, I do think this card would play well.

Design 4

Terraformation (Mythic rare)
Whenever you play a land, you may have it enter the battlefield as a copy of any creature on the battlefield, except it's still a land.
Few possess the ego required to wish the world remade in their image. Even fewer possess the mind necessary to make it so.

I told Scott this way back on the original designs, now I can tell you: Caring about lands that you play entering the battlefield rather than lands you control entering the battlefield is an unusual hair to split. Be very careful if you want to lean on that distinction. As long as I'm commenting on this card and seeing that you made your own comment on its templating, I'll point out the "when"—that makes this a triggered ability, which happens after the land has already entered. You need a replacement effect instead to get the land changed in time for triggers. Here, it would also be a totally valid design if the land entered as a land and then became a creature, which is what the trigger does, so you've got a card in limbo.

Scott Wilson submitted an enchantment called Oasis Mirage in the design test. This is far too similar.

I think this card reads very exciting. I'm not sure how well it plays. It looks like a tracking nightmare. There are going to be lands coming into play every turn, and likely multiple times a turn if you build around this. I think this ability needs to be gated in some way, like maybe the first lands you play each turn, but even that comes with tracking issues. I do feel like this is a card that the Play Design team can iterate on and get it to a fun space. The art doesn't really look like lands transforming into creatures though.

Grade: C. It's challenging to reconcile a land-focused mechanic with the art.

I like this card. I liked it when Scott submitted it for his design test. In the competition, you have to be extra careful about recreating work made by other designers, so what might have been a positive review turns into a ding where I have to remind you to be more careful.

Design 5

Gobbling Goo (Common)
Creature — Ooze
3B, Sacrifice an artifact or creature: Monstrosity 3 (If this creature isn't monstrous, put three +1/+1 counters on it and it becomes monstrous.)
Lord Garbin's forces loved bringing the insatiable oozes on missions, at least until they ran out of enemies and rations.

Monstrosity is an unusual ability. It's a keyword action like "draw a card," so nothing stops you from activating the ability that attempts to monstrosity, even if the creature's already monstrous. For Theros, that just means you can waste mana if you want. For this gobbly blobbly, it gives you death triggers. Players aren't likely to expect this to be legal; make very sure you want this card enough to be worth the weirdness.

This is a cute, flavorful design. 5/5 deathtouch is a bit much at common. Changing it to monstrosity 2 for 2B addresses this, while keeping the design.

Name and flavor/art are pretty cute; it does look like this goo is gobbling things! However, this art looks very green and not black. While the name and flavor look good, it doesn't make sense as a black card. That said, I do think this card is a reasonable and fun common and looks like it will play well in Limited.

Grade: C. Given the color cues and creature type, this looks more like a green creature than a black one.

Oozes can definitely be black and this creature is a fine Ooze design. (I personally like making the occasional large creature with deathtouch, as it makes multi-blocking a bigger cost.) The problem, as most of the judges have pointed out, is the green color pallet of this card is so strong, it's hard for it to be solely a mono-black creature. The simple trick I would have used is making the monstrosity activation use green mana which would help justify the "greenness" of the card. I agree with Erik that this isn't a common if you're going to have the sacrifice be part of the monstrosity cost. To keep it common and avoid Eli's issues, I'd just use mana in the monstrosity cost.

Design 6

Kellmoth, Sower of War (Mythic rare)
Legendary Creature — Demon Avatar
Flying, trample
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, you control each other player during that player's next combat step. (You see all cards that player could see and make all decisions for that player.)
"Gods hide their intentions behind honor, virtue, and destiny. I do you no such disservice, mortal. You will fight because I wish it."

During opponent 1's combat, do I control opponent 1 and opponent 2, or just opponent 1? This needs a lot more words to resolve that ambiguity; being the grand puppetmaster and controlling everyone else at once sounds hilarious but complex, so I suspect you want:

When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, for each opponent, you control that player during that player's next combat phase.

Only controlling your opponent during their combat is interesting, since they can tap all their mana before then. I think this is too easy to recur, so I would have it die to exile.

Good art choice for a legendary Demon. I think this ability is interesting. First, is your intention that I get every player's combat step? So, in a four-player game I get the next four combat steps? Assuming that is your intent, what I dislike about it is how annoying this is in multiplayer. There is a tracking issue here as well: you have to remember to control each player's combat, and while that seems simple, when you are playing complex games that involve a lot of things happening at all parts of the turn, it can be easy to forget. Designs like this also do nothing against some opponents (creatureless control decks). That is totally okay, but since this card is only for certain matchups sizing is very important here (which is something the Play Design team can work on).

Grade: A. Since legends have leeway to be more individualistic, making this guy a legend was a good choice to justify the art. The name matched the mechanic well.

The art is a decent match-up. The art shows a giant Demon and the card is a giant Demon. I could read the Warrior with the axe as being influenced to charge forward. I do like that you found a way to do a Mindslaver effect that's a little less brutal than a normal Mindslaver. I agree with Melissa that I would word this so it isn't crazy in multiplayer, and I agree with Erik that this should die to exile to avoid abuse.

Design 7

Intrusive Armasaur (Uncommon)
Creature — Dinosaur
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, target tapped land an opponent controls doesn't untap during its controller's untap step for as long as you control CARDNAME.
She wandered in one day while the priests were out. They'd prefer she find a different watering hole. She has yet to be convinced.

Red can temporarily interfere with an opponent's mana. But this design is more in the Banishing Light space, so it feels more white than red to me.

I'm not sure if this is a creature or a land destruction spell. If you are locking down an opponent's land, you are probably not getting into combat with this. I don't think this is a fun effect. I also think this art doesn't look like it goes on a red card at all. Looks more blue or white to me.

Grade: C. This doesn't look like a red creature card. It's hard to justify this as a creature card at all because the Dinosaur is so small in the frame.

This is another card where the tie between the art and the mechanic is tentative at best. Yes, it's a Dinosaur and there's a Dinosaur in the art ("Artifact Creature — Dinosaur" would have gotten you extra points), but there's more to matching art than just having the right creature appear in it. As for the card, you took something R&D has been lightly experimenting with ("freezing lands" in red) and pushed the boundaries. The problem is when you do this you shift it from being a red ability to being a white one. Beyond that, I'm not sure this is a mechanical space we want to be experimenting in. Taking away a land for one turn is a lot different than many turns.

Design 8

Self Infliction (Rare)
Choose any target. Until end of turn, whenever a source you control deals damage to you or a permanent you control, CARDNAME deals that much damage to the chosen target.
CARDNAME deals 2 damage to you.
"You're next."

I target my indestructible creature. This hits me, so it hits the creature, so it hits the creature, so it hits the creature, so . . . game over! Let's not do two-mana draw-the-game cards and restrict the target to an opponent or something an opponent controls.

This is an interesting Johnny card, but is a bit too much in the one-turn-kill category.

To me, this art and name look like a black creature, not a red sorcery. Mechanically, this card is very hard to parse. I had to read it three times to learn that it deals 2 to you and a target, and then you have to actively damage yourself to have it do more. I think this is a narrow build-around and does not look very fun.

Grade: C. This doesn't look like a red sorcery—more like a black creature.

The art match isn't strong, but its serviceable. I'm more focused on the mechanical constraint. We wanted you to make a "weird Johnny/Jenny-style card." The key to a good Johnny/Jenny card is that forces the player to have to figure out how to use it. This card has some execution issues, but how to use it is pretty straightforward—put in a lot of cards that damage you. That makes it more of a Spike optimization card than a Johnny/Jenny card.

Design 9

Tracker's Trail (Common)
Reveal the top five cards of your library. You may put a land card from among them into your hand and/or a creature card from among them on top of your library. Put the rest on the bottom of your library in any order.
"I know this path well, so stay close. The beast should be just up ahead."

It is a little odd, but the card has the right balance of effects. I like this a lot.

Good flavor and art choice. This card looks like filler for a Limited deck. It's okay, but I would like the creature to go to my hand. Cards like this are nice for Limited because they are useful at all points in the game. With this card, if I need a creature in the late game I have to wait an entire turn to get it. I would just make this three mana and have it get both a creature and land.

Grade: A. If we were commissioning this art as a sorcery, we would ask for more magical effects in the illustration. But I buy this as a search-for-a-land card, and the name helps explain why you also get a creature.

This does a good job of matching its art and mechanical constraint. I agree with Melissa that I would rather just get both cards in my hand for simplicity.

Design 10

Swallow Whole (Uncommon)
Enchantment — Aura
Enchant creature you control
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, exile target creature with toughness less than or equal to enchanted creature's toughness until CARDNAME leaves the battlefield.
Enchanted creature gets +X/+X, where X is the exiled creature's toughness.

This is a great flavorful hit. However, this is extremely impactful in Limited, so as an uncommon I would charge more mana, probably six mana. I don't think you want to force someone to eat their own creature, so I would either only exile opponent's creatures, or make this optional.

I think this ability is cool, but green doesn't really do this. This design looks more green-white or mono-white. We had a similar effect with Bishop of Binding in Rivals of Ixalan. While the art does look like something's getting swallowed whole, and flavor is green, I don't think it's green mechanically.

Grade: C. This doesn't look like an enchantment card. Maybe a creature or an instant.

This card is messing around in a space (green temporarily exiling other creatures) that I've publicly said design wants to experiment in, but one from which we haven't published any cards yet. The art is a good fit and the design is interesting. My biggest criticism is that I think the mechanic would work better on a creature than an Aura that grants the ability. There's a bunch of moving pieces including an exiled card, so putting it on an Aura adds some logistical issues.

Overall Judge Commentary

Some of your designs are good, but some are not. Unfortunately your most novel card was too similar to a card submitted weeks ago. I suggest stretching for more innovation.

You had some sweet designs. Many of them were cards that the Play Design team could test and iterate on. You designed multiple cards with tracking and memory issues in this challenge. Doing those at low frequency and higher rarities is okay, but I would definitely stay away from designs like that on commons. You had quite a few flavor/mechanical mismatches.

The judges selected you as the third best design of this challenge. Last week, I asked you to push more boundaries and you did, but with a mixed bag of success. You pushed a lot on areas that R&D is currently experimenting in. I would rather you pushed in areas that you wanted to explore rather than what you knew we were exploring. Your hit rate with the art was one of the lowest in the competition, but your cards on the whole seemed fun to play. All in all, you were pretty middle-of-the-pack this week.


Chris, we're down to the final challenge. You've had a few challenges where you were in the top three, but none where you were in the top slot, a feat every other remaining competitor has accomplished. This week is going to be a fight for the final three slots. I know you have it within you, but this is a tight competition, so this upcoming design challenge really needs to be the one where you pull out all the stops.

Challenge #5


Eli Shiffrin

Erik Lauer

Melissa DeTora

Guest judge Ken Nagle

Mark Rosewater

Set: Guildpact

Guildpact I feel is a strong choice for a set, given it's part of the landmark Ravnica block. Having led Return to Ravnica, I'll be looking for improvements in that vein.

Contestant Comments

For this challenge, I chose a set that I knew well and gave me lots of material to work with. Guildpact gave me access to three incredibly resonant guilds and the entire plane of Ravnica, and had some of the largest untapped design space in its mechanics.

My implementation of haunt ditches the confusing, fiddly ETB and death triggers in favor of grokkable static abilities. Tormented Thrull helps combat the many walls in the format, and Dutiful Debtor uses spirit link technology to haunt either side of the battlefield. Basilica Recruit serves both haunt and the block's Aura theme.

My replicate cards show off the versatility of the mechanic. Lightning Round's alternate cost is brand new, and Shrink Warp is a unique shrink and bounce combo that uses replicate's multi-targeting as more than "expensive Strive."

Bloodthirst already had a great implementation, so I pushed a little further into effects appropriate for common and made size matter. Hexhide Boar's soft hexproof is much more interesting to play with and against.

Finally, the rest of my cards play into the set's other themes. Right of Way and Regulate both tap into the block's urban flavor and minor themes of Auras and multicolor, while the rest of the cards are representations of their guild's flavor.

Guildpact has a special place in my heart (I chose a Guildpact card as my avatar!) so I put a lot of love into this pack. I hope you will enjoy this trip back to Ravnica with me.

Design 1

Island (basic)
Basic Land — Island

I think this one might be too strong to print, but I'm not judging power level here.

My least favorite.

I'm not going to ding you heavily for this, but you didn't do your research on the Guildpact booster pack. The first set to have a basic land slot was Shards of Alara. Guildpact had, on average, eleven commons, three uncommons and a rare. You could not get a basic land in the booster pack. You had to buy the tournament pack (a 60-card deck that came with land; Shards of Alara was the last set to have tournament packs). All this means this slot should have been a common card.

Design 2

Basilica Recruit (common)
Creature — Human Soldier
CARDNAME has first strike as long as it's enchanted or haunted.
"They may be young, but I'm sure they'll rise to the task if given some responsibility, or perhaps . . . supervision."
—Czaric, Orzhov prelate

This is a nice design, but a problematic common; the odds that your pack contains a haunt card (as this card doesn't tell you what haunt does) aren't high enough, so people need to look elsewhere to discover what this card does. We don't want that to be a frequent occurrence, so this does not belong at common.

I like making haunt matter to the creature on the battlefield. I like conditional first strike at common. Nice common!

I'm reminded of Ari's design #2. This has more creative points because its works in a couple ways. While you'd mostly haunt your own creatures, I've cast plenty of Cry of Contrition targeting my opponent's creatures, so a "bonus for being haunted" can be a deterrent. Another good aspect of this design is it just can't exist in another set, and Rosewater in particular likes making cards like this.

I appreciate you trying to find new ways to make haunted relevant and I like the tie to enchantments as it's thematic. My only question is whether or not I'd do this at common. If it were a major theme of the set, I'd consider it, but as this is a minor theme in one of three factions, I'd be more inclined to make this uncommon.

Design 3

Right of Way (common)
Enchantment — Aura
Enchant creature you control
When Right of Way enters the battlefield, tap up to X target creatures, where X is the number of enchantments you control.
Enchanted creature gets +1/+1 and has vigilance.
"Citizens lacking the proper permits shall stand aside."

What do you expect to happen if the value of X changes while the trigger is on the stack? We have an answer (the number of targets is locked in as they're chosen), but it's not necessarily easy to guess. You can add something like "as this ability is put onto the stack," but your common is getting awfully strange here.

This is a nice design. It has a reasonable base effect, and a nice scaling build around. I would have put another enchantment in this pack.

This is a weird effect at common to me. It's asking me to build around this and care about enchantments. I also don't remember Guildpact caring about enchantments in this way. I think this card would be more successful as an uncommon build-around. It could be stronger rate and give players a direction when drafting. The current card is asking the player to draft many copies of these and collect a lot of enchantments, which seems like a trap on a common card (especially because this is a weak effect for Limited).

Good urban city flavor. I was not expecting "enchant creature you control" here since it would appear to be an extension of Richard Garfield's Galvanic Arc–style "enters-the-battlefield" Auras. That said, it does scale more than that cycle and leads slightly into the Dissension Magemark cycle.

I like the thematic connection of tapping opponent's creatures while this creature doesn't tap. Like the last card, I would question how many build-around themes you're pushing in the set. If you put too many at common, it makes the draft a little too chaotic. I agree with Melissa that I would make this card a little stronger and serve as an uncommon build-around Draft card.

Design 4

Regulate (common)
Counter target spell unless its controller pays 1 plus an additional 2 if you control a multicolor permanent.
The guilds never cease to circumvent the Guildpact, but never hesitate to employ its power on others.

This is a good way of communicating "this is a multicolor set."

The card makes sense as a common counterspell in Guildpact, but it's pretty math-y for a common. I think it could be worded as "Counter unless they pay 1. If you control a multicolored permanent, counter unless they pay 3 instead." If you have to read a common more than once to process it, it's probably not correct. That said I like the card with the updated wording.

There's very little wiggle room for these kinds of counterspells. Plenty of numbers helps. It irks me that this can't naturally curve, meaning there's no Judge's Familiar or such in Guildpact for this, just two-drops like a Guildmage. In general, countermagic that encourages some board presence has played well like Unified Will (which cost U at one point!). This feels like an Azorius card, but that guild is in in the next set. I would hate for this card to preempt a sexy white-blue card (like white-blue Mana Leak). A fine design, but there are about three vectors I just described putting pressure.

Here is yet another common card that cares about a different quantity. You don't get to have too many of these at common. Usually, common is about having the quality and uncommon and higher are about having the quality. Yes, we will make "___ matters" sets and cards at common will care, but usually that's the singular focus. Also, if your two numbers lined up (I would choose 2 and 2, costed accordingly), it would make a bit easier to track and feel more aesthetic. Templating it the way Melissa suggested would also help.

Design 5

Shrink Warp (common)
Replicate 2U (When you cast this spell, copy it for each time you paid its replicate cost. You may choose new targets for the copies.)
Target creature gets -2/-0 until end of turn. Then if its power is 0 or less, return it to its owner's hand.

This is a very nice replicate card with plenty of development knobs. However, Vacuumelt is already a replicate card that can bounce multiple creatures.

Wow, I would be very cautious of making this effect on a common instant spell. Returning multiple things for one card at a weak rate might be okay, but for an instant I dislike it at this rarity. It's a pretty interesting card at instant, but I'd make it uncommon. It looks like a frustrating card to play against at high frequencies. I do like the new take on replicate.

The first thing that sticks out is the replicate cost isn't the same as the mana cost, as it is for all other replicate cards. Aaron Forsythe has said he would've preferred replicate just always being the mana cost because this theoretical design space of mismatched mana costs isn't as compelling as a clean keyword with no parameter. That said, I'll count this as a creative/innovative card. It's also compelling how it can stack up on a single target for the bounce effect or clean up a handful of tokens. I personally think we want more "gentle" token hosers, so I'm happy with this design.

I'm a fan of this design. I like that it has a built-in reason for wanting to use the replicate because it adds in a secondary function. I have two concerns though. One, as Melissa says above, I'm worried about this being at common as it has the capability of returning more than one card to its owner's hand and we tend to only do that at uncommon and higher. Two, as Ken says above, I'm not sure disconnecting the replicate cost from the mana cost is worth the mental weight it brings to gameplay.

Design 6

Tormented Thrull (common)
Creature — Thrull
Haunt (When this creature dies, exile it haunting target creature.)
CARDNAME and the creature it haunts can't block.
Each day of its life is racked with the wails of the dead. Each day of its death is spent reciting them.

The rules for haunt currently only support triggers that "refer to the haunted creature," but this is so obviously an easy rules change. Yay for changing old keywords!

The design of a card that haunts your opponent's creature is very nice. However, the drawback of not being able to block makes this a challenging card, more challenging than I tend to put at common.

This looks more like a red card to me, since you are haunting an opponent's creature with this. I think it's interesting that you have a downside creature with an upside when it dies.

A clean card with probably a simpler base case for haunt than was printed. If we assume static abilities for haunt, this would be one of the first cards I'd hope to see.

Anyone who's read my column or listen to my podcast knows I'm not the biggest fan of haunt. That said, I do think you've tweaked it to make an execution that is flavorful and functional. My only criticism is I think I would have had commons mostly want to be things you haunted your own creatures with and would have saved haunt creatures you wanted to put on your opponent's creatures for higher rarity.

Design 7

Skab-Clan Slinger (common)
Creature — Goblin Warrior
Bloodthirst 1 (If an opponent was dealt damage this turn, this creature enters the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter on it.)
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, it deals damage equal to its power to target player.
Fine as fodder, better as backup.

This is very nice as a bloodthirst card that can function as an enabler in a pinch.

Interesting idea, but this card is so weak without bloodthirst that it's not worth playing in a Limited deck unless you have noncombat ways to turn it on (like Goblin Fireslinger). I would make commons like this have more decision in when you play it, and make it a worthwhile creature even when you can't bloodthirst it.

This works for me. It's clever how this kind of has haste, but haste is a very bad keyword to put on a bloodthirst creature. Should probably also hit planeswalkers. It's getting wordy for a common but all the text becomes French vanilla.

This is a cute design that gives some added bonus to bloodthirsting. I like it.

Design 8

Hexhide Boar (common)
Creature — Boar
Bloodthirst 1 (If an opponent was dealt damage this turn, this creature enters the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter on it.)
Spells your opponents cast that target CARDNAME cost X more to cast, where X is its toughness.

This is a pretty spiffy design, but I'm skeptical it's common. It's begging players to misplay by trying to buff its toughness after a spell is cast.

This type of card adds complication for your opponent. A complicated common is one thing, in that you can choose to not put it in your deck. But a common that makes the game more complicated for your opponent is worse, so I would not keep this at common.

This is math-y and complex for a common. Will bring up questions when the opponent tries to kill this and you pump its toughness in response. Looks cool at a higher rarity.

This is a bit math-y for common. While it might not actually affect the board very often, a scaling Frost Titan–like ability is still words and math to think about. It's creative to some degree but for common I'd rather see "hexproof while it has a +1/+1 counter" or similar.

I like that you're experimenting with how to make bloodthirst matter more. You have to be careful how many cards you have on the battlefield that require calculations to know how they work. This is another in your "uncommons pretending to be commons" theme.

Design 9

Flagrant Challenger (common)
Creature — Human Warrior
CARDNAME can't be blocked unless all creatures able to block it do so.
"You city-dwellers think you're tough? Come on then, I'll take you all right here."

Speaking of things that aren't common—this effect was rare in Born of the Gods. You've retooled it slightly to play more reasonably and intuitively, so bravo for that! (For those who didn't spot the difference, unlike Tromokratis, a tapped creature doesn't render this creature unblockable.) Wide-reaching combat restrictions are still a pain point for player comprehension and a red flag for digital Magic, and they have strange interactions if you introduce combat requirements. Consider kicking this back up the rarity scale.

This is an interesting line of text, and a good juxtaposition of the two colors. However, some people are going to read this and just not get it. For that reason, I would make this uncommon.

This card is cool in that it feels Gruul and helps with bloodthirst, but I don't think Lure effects are appropriate for common.

Relatively neat sideways Lure plus evasion ability that does feel like a red-green card. This puts an even louder emphasis on the bloodthirst dilemma of letting damage through or trying to block all damage coming in.

I like this design a lot, but it's in no way a common card. The combat math needed to track this card, plus the fact that I don't want two of these on the battlefield often in Limited, means this should be an uncommon.

Design 10

Goblin Prodigy (common)
Creature — Goblin Wizard
T, Sacrifice CARDNAME: Exile the top two cards of your library. You may cast those cards this turn. (You must pay all costs and follow normal timing rules.)
Most goblins stop after their first idea. Only the truly gifted push through to the second.

This is a very nice Izzet common.

Another card that does not really look like a common. It's pretty swingy. Sometimes you get to cast two spells, other times you get two lands. I think this card looks great on a 2/1 Goblin, but I think it's more appropriate at uncommon (and let them play lands off this as well).

This is another neat gold card. It's drawing cards in the red way, but the two-for-one is more blue. I can imagine this playing better at "1, sac" rather than a tap ability, but the more important part is it does have a "shields down" moment in either case. It's very difficult to design compelling blue-red creatures, especially commons, so good work here.

To continue a theme, I like this card, but I don't think it's common. Having a creature you tap and sacrifice is a good way to set off the effect as you still have mana to cast the spells.

Design 11

Indemnity (common)
CARDNAME deals damage to target creature equal to the amount of combat damage it dealt to you this turn. You gain that much life.
"You should have read the fine print. It wouldn't have helped, but at least you'd be prepared for what's about to happen."
—Czaric, Orzhov prelate

Again, this text is a bit hard for some people to understand. While this could be common, the number of difficult commons is far too high.

This is an interesting template; it's like the way lifelink used to work (and the way Spirit Link still works). There's an argument for why this is worded like this, since you're gaining the life back right away. It makes it less flexible because you can't cast it when you're dying, and can't kill creatures with higher toughness than power. Between the clunky wording and how hard it is to use this, it doesn't really read common to me.

This implies another common cycle. Mourning Thrull is a single H (hybrid mana) so I would've liked to see 1H here on a spell cycle. Hybrid was the highest-rated new mechanic in original Ravnica, so more of it in my booster pack is a good instinct. The design itself is okay, though most "retribution" damage cards end up in red-white or red-white hybrid, which isn't available for this booster.

This is a cute hybrid design in that it finds a narrow space where the colors overlap. It's another card that's a bit more complex to track than it looks. You get some of these at common, but you have to be careful about how many.

Design 12

Dutiful Debtor (uncommon)
Creature — Human Cleric
Haunt (When this creature dies, exile it haunting target creature.)
Whenever CARDNAME or the creature it haunts deals combat damage, you gain that much life.
After a lifetime of faithful service, she was rewarded with another.

This ability works just fine. But I know it'll confuse people who can't spot your very good reason that it's not just lifelink. Is that a rules concern? Eeeeeh. But it's something I'd raise in the Developer Comments field in our database to make sure everyone was very well aware it's something to pay attention to.

So, I might haunt my creature, or theirs. Very nice.

This is a pretty cool use of haunt. I think this card looks more common than uncommon though. It's a very simple use of the mechanic on a weak creature. This could use some boosted stats or just a little something else to move it away from the common rarity.

Triggered lifelink to save words. Haunt like this is more like a positive Aura, but I'm afraid there's already an Aura subtheme for the set. The other Haunt cards all trigger on creatures dying which gives a "death" feel for the Orzhov guild. While I would like to say it's creative to mimic positive Auras, I'm afraid they would overlap too much. I liked the "can't block" Thrull better since it's more of a negative Aura.

For the audience, the reason this doesn't say "lifelink" is the keyword didn't exist at the time of Guildpact (it would happen a little over a year later in Future Sight) and the players were instructed to write it out. This written out version is the Spirit Link (from Legends) version so you gain the life if you put it on your opponent's creature. This is my favorite of your haunt spells.

Design 13

Lightning Round (uncommon)
Replicate — Exile two instant and/or sorcery cards from your graveyard. (When you cast this spell, copy it for each time you paid its replicate cost. You may choose new targets for the copies.)
CARDNAME deals 3 damage to target creature.
In Izzet classrooms, chaos is always cumulative.

This non-mana replicate cost is terrific. Well done.

This is a very interesting use of replicate. You have to be careful of free effects that scale. This card is bonkers in the late game, and can often be a one-sided Wrath. I think there is some fun space in free replicate, but I don't think I'd put it on a removal spell, especially one of this rate. For example, if the replicate was 1R, exile 1, you won't be able to Plague Wind people with this.

This feels like a better innovation on a Guildpact mechanic. No longer a mana sink, replicate here is somewhere between delve and spell mastery. I'm happy with the design and the uncommon slot seems appropriate. Since mana sinks are usually better in later game decks, my instinct would have been to try an aggressive-slanted face-only burn card that wouldn't want to wait for land drops past five.

I like your experimentation with replicate costs. I would have lessened the damage though and just exile one instant/sorcery. That would have made the math simpler. I agree with Melissa that the free replicate cost might cause developmental issues.

Design 14

Death Collector (uncommon)
Creature — Human Cleric
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, return target creature card from a graveyard to the battlefield until CARDNAME leaves the battlefield. (Return that creature to the graveyard.)
"Looks like you've missed several payments since your departure. I'm sure we can reach an arrangement—with interest of course."

This makes infinite loops with anything that flickers when it enters the battlefield, so beware. You should also be careful about how and when the returned creature goes back to its owner's graveyard. It's not being destroyed or sacrificed, and it does die; watch out for sacrifice triggers in nearby sets.

This is interesting, but a bit dangerous. For example, it loops with a creature that flickers a creature. Rather than hope nothing goes wrong, I would have the other creature exile when it leaves the battlefield.

This is a very strong uncommon! Best case scenario is I get a huge thing at a low cost and it takes over the game. Close to worst case is that the Death Collector dies and I lose my reanimated guy. If I get to trigger an "enters-the--battlefield" effect then I'm usually happy. However, the games when I get to discard or mill my fatty, reanimate it on turn three, and win with it don't make for very fun games. This card looks more rare than uncommon to me.

This is trying to be a clean design, but the reminder text shows it's relatively fancy. It's annoying that copies two, three, and four of these can grab each other, and then a final one. You have to line them all up in a row of who-is-keeping-who alive. Fits great for sacrifice decks and it's technically a three-mana reanimation spell which we don't do, but it has 2 toughness. It indeed feels like white-black gold card and a way to do Animate Dead. If it plays as fancy as I've outlined above, I could see a bump up to rare just so multiples are less likely.

Okay, it has some infinite loops issues and is probably a rare, but ignoring that, I like this design and it feels very Orzhov.

Design 15

Street-tiller Sage (rare)
Creature — Giant Warrior Druid
Whenever CARDNAME attacks, discard your hand.
Whenever CARDNAME deals combat damage to a player, draw that many cards.
He storms the streets in a mindless rage, then meditates among the rubble.

This is an exciting design, but I suspect most people would be afraid to play it.

This card has a really high amount of downside. If my opponent's kill it in combat, I lose not only my creature but also my entire hand. If it hits my opponent, I am getting anywhere from highly rewarded to moderately rewarded, depending on the size of the blocker. If I am expected to play a card with this much downside, I want the reward to be more reliable.

Nice big swingy effect. I enjoy large creatures like this so I doubt the other judges will like it better. It's close to being a mono-red card but just a little weird on the draw effect that I can believe the green part. Giant Warrior Druid indeed!

This card is interesting in that it gives card advantage to Gruul, a guild that doesn't get much card advantage, but it does it in a very flavorful (and in color pie) way. I like it.

Overall Judge Commentary

This is the most impressive set of cards this week. Your passion for Guildpact is obvious. If you had the discipline to hold the line on commons, it would be my favorite set of the week.

My favorite things you did this week were new space for both haunt and replicate. I think you need to work on commons more. This week some of your commons were either too complex, or too wordy, or too swingy. My favorite card of yours was Lightning Round; I think it is a sweet use of replicate, despite the fact that I think the card is the wrong rate.

All in all, I'm less happy with the rarities, but more happy with the gold cards. I appreciate all the flavor text in these submissions that shows a keen eye for the worldbuilding. We've been trying to move some processes like card naming earlier so they can get more scrutiny and iteration, and flavor text is another thing that could happen earlier.

The judges selected yours as the third-best design this week. I think you had the most innovative designs and did the most to explore new space that the set could have explored. Unfortunately, you turned in a booster pack with more uncommons than commons, and that sunk you. Part of this challenge was working within the constraints of the booster pack and that meant matching rarity constraints. Had you done that with equal innovation, I agree with Erik that I think you could have won this design challenge.


Chris, I think you had one big misstep with your rarities, but you definitely demonstrated that you're a great designer with the most innovation of anyone this week. You even had me reconsidering haunt, which unto itself is a pretty big deal, so I'm happy to tell you that you made the top three.

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