Great Designer Search 3 Finalist – Jay Treat

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

Recall with Purpose (uncommon)
Return target creature card and up to one target aura card from your graveyard to the battlefield.

That Aura you're getting back won't be sitting on that creature you're getting back—they're coming back at the same time, and you have to pick where to put the Aura before they move. Your best bet here also removes the "up to one" construction: make the spell modal, since modes are performed sequentially in order:

Choose one or both—

  • Return target creature card from your graveyard to the battlefield.
  • Return target Aura card from your graveyard to the battlefield.

Getting the Aura on the creature card will take some templating effort, but it can work. I think this design is great.

This is great. I'm happy to pay five for a Zombify, and the added bonus of maybe getting an Aura is nice. Looks like a fun Limited card.

This mitigates the risk of running Auras in your deck a bit. It allows your reanimation spell to be more impactful without having to make a dedicated reanimator deck. I would certainly put this in a file, especially if the set had an Aura subtheme.

With Eli's caveat that the words need some massaging, I like this card. It's a nice blending of white and black, and it allows some fun things in a deck that plays Auras.

Design 2

Echidna's Two-Headed Pup (uncommon)
Creature — Chimera
Menace, Vigilance
CARDNAME can block an additional creature each combat.
One head loves being petted and the other hates it. Good luck.

So much two-headed action! I love it!

Wow, this card looks like a beating. It's very strong. The rarity is fine, but the rate is off. Doesn't look like a fun card to play against in Limited at this rate, but I like the design overall.

I like the symmetry of menace and "can block an additional creature." We saw that on Two-Headed Dragon back in Mercadian Masques, but this design makes way more sense than that one did. A nice, clean, novel design.

I love when a designer can mix and match mechanics we've used many times before to make something new (this card feels different to me than Two-Head Dragon). This card is flavorful, matches the colors and rarity, and will play well all in an elegant package. I can't stress how hard it is to do this well. Congrats, Jay.

Design 3

Third Degree (common)
CARDNAME deals 2 damage to target creature and its controller. Gain 2 life.

This is a very appealing common, though I would probably charge three mana.

Nice and simple, a great common. I think the rate is off by one mana. This card is doing just a bit too much at common. 1BR seems correct here.

This is a perfectly serviceable card, but there isn't much to excite my interest here.

This is a nice clean common with just enough of a tweak to get the second color, in this case red, into the design.

Design 4

Cosmic Revelation (uncommon)
Draw a card.
Until end of turn, target creature has base power and toughness each equal to the number of cards in your hand.

I can't tell if you want to lock in the target's size right away or if you want it to update throughout the turn. Words exist for either way, but how should it be tested? One trick some designers use is to put in plain-English reminder text answering the question until the editors change the words or I change the rules.

Very nice.

I like how this can either shrink a creature or pump one, depending on your hand. I definitely appreciate you adding "draw a card" on here so it's not a kill spell in green-blue. That said, I think this card is too strong at this rate. A lot of the time you are using this as a combat trick, and a very flexible one at that. "Kill a guy, draw a card" is not okay for three mana, and that is what this card will be doing most of the time. I would add a mana to the cost.

The cantrip helps to ensure that this is unlikely to be pseudo-removal, which I appreciate. A sort of Maro-themed combat trick is a cool idea for a card. I suspected that this could cost less than three mana, but seeing Melissa's comments made me realize I was wrong.

This is another fun design. It blends the two colors perfectly while making a very playable effect, all while playing to one of the judges. Bravo!

Design 5

Lure of Treason (rare)
Gain control of target creature until end of turn. Untap that creature. It gains haste until end of turn. All creatures able to block it this turn do so.

I don't think this is all that novel for a rare, but it is a nice design.

While this card is costed appropriately and is the right rarity, I do not think it is a fun rare. It is a Limited bomb capable of winning games, and frustrating to lose to (surprise Lure creature). Cards like this are too narrow to have many Constructed applications. It's not an exciting card to open in a pack for the player who doesn't play Limited and likes cracking packs.

Act of Treason ends a lot of games. Lure ends a lot of games. Combining them together onto one card will end a lotta lotta games. This is obviously strong in Limited. I wonder if it has Constructed implications.

I like that this is another nice blending of abilities. Red could do "must be blocked," but it takes green to get "all creatures." I agree with Melissa and Ethan that I'm not sure how much fun it would be.

Design 6

Illusive Vagabond (common)
Creature — Rogue Illusion
Whenever CARDNAME deals combat damage to a player, sacrifice it. That player discards a card and you draw a card.

This is a very interesting common, and very appropriate for the color pair, both mechanically and strategically.

I understand what you're trying to do, but I dislike this card. I would avoid forced sacrifice. Even though I'm gaining value, sometimes I don't want to sacrifice my creature. This body is sized in a way where he will not connect very often. I do like the idea here.

A nice, simple common.

You have a pretty good knack for making commons that are actually common. I like that this card has a little mission to hit the player once and then does its thing. The flavor also seems spot of for a blue-black creature.

Design 7

Bucket List (rare)
Whenever you cast a spell of a type showing on CARDNAME, put a counter over that type and draw a card. If all five types on CARDNAME have counters over them, sacrifice it and draw one more card.
[ ] artifact [ ] creature [ ] enchantment [ ] instant [ ] sorcery

I'm positive that I can write rules to make this design work, but seeing it pop up out of nowhere made my brain do a somersault. It would require extensive rules work and terminology definition, and then there's even more issues I'm aware of downstream: graphic design concerns, digital tracking and display concerns, and tournament play concerns. I hope you've got more than one card cooked up to use this design space for the amount of work it'd need, but I'm impressed and intrigued.

This is a nice build-around quest.

This is a lot of work for not much payoff. The deck-building restraint is huge. That said, I do think the card reads very fun. There are tracking issues with this, as you need to find a way to mark your card. Putting a die over each thing doesn't seem reasonable. This is the type of card we would show to the Magic Online and MTG Arena teams to make sure they can make it work (not a bad thing).

This card is playing in the B-I-N-G-O space. Its usability will depend greatly on whether the graphic designers can find a way to build the frame to accommodate these various spots to place counters. There are also potential concerns with how this would be implemented digitally, but I suspect that it wouldn't be too hard. In general, this looks like it's a pretty fun quest to build a deck around. I guess it goes with the delirium cards you mentioned in your essay.

This was my favorite design of all 94 design tests. It is an interesting "build around me" card that makes use of the frame in an all-new way. This is the kind of card that inspires me to make a whole mechanic. (And it's clear from Eli that we'd want to make use of this on enough cards to justify the effort to make it work.)

Design 8

Jori, Archaeologist (mythic rare)
Legendary Planeswalker — Jori
+2: Put the top 2 cards of your library into your graveyard. Gain 2 life.
-2: Return target permanent card from your graveyard to your hand.
-7: Until end of turn, you may play cards from your graveyard. If a card would be put into your graveyard from anywhere this turn, exile that card instead.

Keep in mind that Jori's last ability will stop "when something dies" triggers when nontoken permanents die, but not tokens. Do you want to risk players misplaying, or play it safe and just have "a card or token" exiled if it tries to go to your graveyard?

This is a straightforward, solid planeswalker design.

Three-mana planeswalkers are tricky to make because they are much harder to deal with than four-mana planeswalkers by a significant amount. This comes down before the opponent has a board presence. For this reason, we usually start off three-mana planeswalkers with low loyalty. You started yours at three and it immediately goes to five. While it does not do anything on the plus, the opponent will have to invest a lot of resources in killing this. That said, I think this design is very cool. It has some fun play patterns (mill yourself, fill your graveyard, cast all your stuff, get back permanents when you need to do that). I am usually going to be happy activating any of the abilities and the choices are interesting, whether I want to work up to the ultimate or minus to get a key card back. I think this planeswalker is great if we adjust the numbers.

A tight package where every ability works together in a cohesive way. The Yawgmoth's Will ultimate is saucy! As I said above, planeswalkers are hard, and this one is pretty compelling. This card doesn't have any way to protect itself with its abilities, so it might want to start with higher loyalty (and have a corresponding higher ultimate cost).

This is another cool design. It leans a bit more black, but there's enough green in the design to justify the two colors. I wonder whether the ultimate should just be an emblem rather than an "until end of turn" effect.

Design 9

Fiona, Peaceseeker (mythic rare)
Legendary Planeswalker – Fiona
+2: Each player may tap an untapped creature he or she controls. Each player that does draws a card.
0: Gain 1 life for each card in your hand.
-12: Gain an emblem with You have no maximum hand size, then draw cards until your hand size equals your life total.

I am not a fan of this design. I am concerned that the 0 ability is going to lead to games where your life total is a runaway train, where you aren't going to lose, but you might not win for a very long time. At that point, the ultimate is useless because you would immediately deck yourself.

This planeswalker tells a story and is obvious how I am supposed to play with it and build with it. That's great! That said, I think it's very rare that I am going to use the 0 ability to gain life, when the incentive to use the +2 is so high (adding loyalty for a card is much stronger than no loyalty for life). I realize the drawback here, but it is not significant enough for me not to plus this forever. I would change the 0 ability to be stronger in some way. Maybe a way to go up a card with a small life gain. Just like with your other planeswalker, I think this can be a great card with some number adjustments.

I like this one a lot less than I liked Jori. There are so many game states where I won't even want to cast this. If my opponent has more creatures than I do, or if my hand it empty. I generally prefer planeswalker designs where I can usually cast my planeswalker with confidence and then figure out which ability is best to activate.

There's a lot of cool elements in this design. I like the need for creatures to draw cards. I like the synergy with caring about your hand size. I enjoy that it all thematically and mechanically ties together. My favorite though is the ultimate. It has the "Wow, that sounds fun to do" quality I look for in planeswalker ultimates.

Design 10

Bought the Farm (uncommon)
Enchantment — Aura
Enchant land you control
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, exile target creature an opponent controls until CARDNAME leaves the battlefield.
Enchanted land has T: Add GW to your mana pool.

I feel this is a bit much, and would have you sacrifice the enchantment for mana. That way you could keep their creature away, but would let it out to do something big.

Wow, nice. This looks very appealing to me. However, that is some huge upside on your ramp spell. This card looks a bit too strong for Standard, but this is an awesome and innovative way to do a Journey to Nowhere. I think a good fix here is to restrict the type of creature it can remove.

This is a hot glue gun design: Banishing Light combined with Wild Growth. It's a bit weird that there'll be this pile of three cards sitting in my land row. This card is a bit strategically incoherent, too, in that a ramp spell is proactive and a removal spell is reactive. This card presents the player with too much tension, in my opinion. I most like wouldn't add it to a set.

We've done Oblivion Ring–style effects on Auras, but never on an enchant land. Lands are traditionally difficult to destroy, so I'd probably want to make sure the set had an answer to it, but I like the general design. I'd change the flavor, but it's a cute design name.

Overall Judge Commentary

This is a very fruitful set of cards. With a little work, almost all of these could be solid fun cards. Your cards are the best of the competition.

I thought a lot of your cards were great and many of them made me excited to build decks around them. There were quite a few rate issues with your cards, but that can be easily solved through experience. All of the rate issues were about cards being too strong rather than too weak, so keep that in mind for future weeks. Another thing to consider is game play patterns. For example, having choices on cards you'd never make, or being forced to do things you don't want to do in game.

It seems clear that you've designed a lot of Magic cards, and even Magic sets. You understand what sorts of cards a Magic set needs to create fun, dynamic environments. I'd love to have you on a set design team, where we're trying to find relatively simple solutions to specific problems. Your designs look fun and elegant. However, aside from Bucket List, they're pretty conservative. I'd love to see you push the boundaries a bit. I'd also like to see more build-around cards and top-down designs in future shows. Basically, I want to see more cards that would make players sit up and take notice: "I can't believe they did THAT!" For planeswalkers, remember that these cards are almost always aimed at Standard Constructed, so they should usually have the option to be board-impacting in some way the turn they're cast.

You had the strongest design test of all the candidates. Your cards are well crafted and mostly functional. It is clear that you have a good idea of what Magic sets need to work. I think my notes are similar to Ethan's. I know you're capable of much more than what you're showing us. I want to see you stretch more and try pushing into a little less safe design space. Bucket List was my favorite card in all the design tests, but I felt like none of your other cards showed the potential for untapped design space that Bucket List did. You are also the only returning GDS person in this competition and I know you feel you have a lot to prove. [Jay was the first designer eliminated in GDS2.] Demonstrate all the skills you've picked up in the seven years since the last Great Designer Search. I feel you're capable of so much more than you've showed us in your design test. Use these upcoming challenges to prove me right.

Challenge #1


Eli Shiffrin

Erik Lauer

Melissa DeTora

Guest judge Alexis Janson

Mark Rosewater

Tribal Choice: Shaman

Contestant Comments

There is value in tribes that come together based on the synergies and playstyles cards of that tribe create, rather than explicitly referencing the tribe on every card. Many Shamans have had activated abilities, and that feels like a sort of innate magic different from spellcasting, so I'm eager to build on that history here.

(I also want to explore more cross-tribal, but that's a different animal entirely.)

This set includes cards (especially in BRG) that reward activating abilities, not all of which explicitly name Shamans; that's why half these cards grant activated abilities where they could have been more direct. The result is a tribe that's chock full of synergies that make the player feel smart, but is also more complex as a package and will likely slow the format down—something to watch for. (Common Shamans do exist—it's not all red flags.)

The hybrid-tap symbol is a crazy idea, but it worked in my very limited playtesting and is worth thinking about. While playtesting, I kept wishing I could pay mana rather than tap—and vice versa—in different situations. Both "tap this creature" and "pay some mana" are costs and symbols, so at least theoretically can be hybridized. The once-per-turn limit might only be needed for Ritual Flame; I'd need to test more to know. We can avoid certain hard questions by restricting where and how we use it.

Design 1

Vision Quest (common)
When you cast Vision Quest, up to one target Shaman gains "1, T: Copy Vision Quest" until it resolves.
Search your library for a basic land card and put it onto the battlefield tapped, then shuffle your library.

Wait, that's a comm—no, I'm only commenting on rules, not rarity. I get that you're aiming for "activated abilities matter" for Shamans, but if splicing on an activated ability to copy a spell that's doing the splicing is what you need to make your theme work, I question whether your theme might be laden with too many edge-case quirks.

This is a very strange common. I appreciate that you are looking for a way to tie in to activated abilities, but commons need to be simpler than this.

Not common. This is complex. I think the space is interesting, but I would not have creatures granting a copying spells effect at common.

Granting a tap ability is barely common, if there's a set theme that justifies it, but this is just too weird as the first card someone might read in a set. Ideally, commons can stand on their own, and this just makes me go "Huh?" This card hints at the kind of complex puzzles that I love to piece together in Constructed and higher-powered Limited environments, but it doesn't belong at common here.

One of the things we liked about your design test was how much your common designs felt like commons. Sadly, I can't say that about this design. Unless part of a larger concentrated keyword mechanic, the word "copy" shouldn't be on a common card. If you wanted this to be common, you'd probably tutor for an additional land if you have a Shaman on the battlefield. I get that you're trying to tie into your Shaman's activations theme, but it makes the card too complicated for common.

Design 2

Shamanic Epiphany (common)
Enchantment — Aura
Enchant creature
Enchanted creature has haste and is a Shaman in addition to its other types.
Untap enchanted creature at the end of combat on your turn if you control a Forest.

This is also a strange common. It makes the creature a Shaman, but it is not clear why I am making the creature a Shaman; if I were playing a Shaman deck, this wouldn't be very useful. Commons should strive to be easier to appreciate.

This is such a bizarre card to me. It doesn't feel like a red effect, and adding "If you control a Forest" makes me think that was added as a way to keep the card in color pie. The effect itself is very weak. It's not worth a slot in most Limited decks, even if I have the right synergy for it. End of combat is a weird time to trigger effects, but I understand why, if this is meant to work with your above common. It's often a step that many players don't know exists and is likely to be forgotten about.

This also seems to be a bit more complex than I'd want a common to be. I'm scratching my head and wonder exactly what I should be trying to do in this Limited environment. You didn't give me a common or uncommon that would make me actively excited to put this in my deck. Left to my own imagination, I can't imagine putting this in my deck without it enabling something broken.

This is another common that's not really a common, although it's closer than your first card. It's a weird, secretly red-green card. Yes, the untap ability (something green can do but not red) is allowed with the Forest rider, but I'm not sure why you're doing it. (Yes, red and green are the most common Shaman colors.) This design seems more clever than functional. Also, you were instructed that your cards had to mechanically care about your creature types, which this card doesn't actually do (making something a Shaman is not mechanically caring about Shaman), so you get a ding for that. I can appreciate granting haste and untapping for a tribe built around activations, but the whole package is inelegant.

Design 3

Moonspire Diabolist (uncommon)
Creature — Vampire Shaman
Moonspire Diabolist has lifelink and deathtouch as long as you've activated an ability of a Shaman this turn.

This is an appropriate reward for uncommon.

This one is interesting. Plays into the Shaman themes and has a satisfying reward.

I'm afraid your theme isn't going to work out at lower rarities. "Activating abilities" is a very mechanical concept and one that beginning players shouldn't be asked to understand to play casual Magic. I'm not sure why you went black here, as the third color doesn't add anything to your submission, and creatures "working together" is pretty much the antithesis of black.

This design is tapping into interesting space. We haven't had a tribe care about activations before. If you had limited this to just one keyword, maybe this could have been one of your commons. I'm not a big fan of deathtouch as I don't like surprises that are sitting on the battlefield waiting for an unobservant opponent to walk into, so just being lifelink at common probably would have been a better card. I agree with Alexis that I don't quite get why the shift into black.

Design 4

Ritual Flame (uncommon)
Ritual Flame deals 1 damage to target creature or player.
Until end of turn, Shamans you control gain "(T/r): This Shaman deals 1 damage to target creature or player." (Activate this ability for R or by tapping that creature, but only once each turn.)

The tap-hybrid symbol idea is pretty cool, and I can write rules to support it without any trouble. However, the "once per turn" restriction is pretty odd. I can untap a creature with a tap ability and activate it again, why can't I do that here? You could consider a direction more like the Mirrodin Shards so that you can charge more mana and remove the restriction: "T or 2R: This Shaman deals . . ." Always consider options, even if you really, really want that restriction. Someone else down the line might veto it, and a backup idea may make the difference between salvaging a mechanic that charms you and having to start over.

Paying an activation cost of red does not generally limit to once per turn, so making a hybrid symbol with red, and making that also imply "only once per turn" doesn't seem good to me. Tapping is the default way of getting players to only use an ability once. It is not clear to me why you didn't stick with that, especially since I already paid four mana for the spell. This card is unnecessarily complicated.

This looks like a rare design. It's complex, and too strong for uncommon. I think the space is interesting, as is the tap/R hybrid activation. For an uncommon, I would have chosen to not put the hybrid activation on a sorcery granting it to a creature, due to complexity. This is probably the first card like this a player sees. (Could have gone on a red creature with T/2R: 1 damage to target player, for example). I think the activation on a creature would have been a more successful way to execute this mechanic.

This card hurts my brain. Why can I only activate this only once a turn? If I'm paying R, why can't I pay R again? Why did you make such a weird card rather than a simpler execution that focuses on the tap/red mechanic? Convince me that enough simple designs exist to meet the high bar necessary to create a new symbol. It's your job to convince me that "activated abilities matter" can exist at common/uncommon, and you've done the opposite.

You're definitely one of the designers that pushes hardest into new design space. While I'm intrigued by the tap/red hybrid symbol, my designer instinct says it would cause more confusion than it's worth. I do admire the willingness to explore, though. I also agree with many of the other judges that the whole point of having the red activation would be so you weren't limited to using it once per turn.

Design 5

Sacred Circle (rare)
T: Add C to your mana pool.
T: Until end of turn, activated abilities of Shamans that aren't mana abilities cost you 1 less to activate. (No minimum cost.)

You made a three-color tribe, which already stresses the colored mana of the player's deck. Reducing the activation cost by 1 severely limits the development of your abilities. Suppose the correct activation of a Shaman is 1? That would break, because of this land. Since the design of this land isn't great, I would immediately replace it with a simple tri-land, and label that CQI ("continuous quality improvement"—R&D slang for "use this for now, we'll make something better later") until we get something more innovative.

I like the design of this land, but the "no minimum cost" killed it for me. Having multiples of these means there is high risk for infinite combos. Lands are hard to interact with, especially in Standard. I think this is a cool design, but I would have added the text "can't cost less than 1" and would not put the line on a permanent that is hard to remove.

Allowing the cost of abilities to drop to zero is a huge red flag for my otherwise excited inner Jenny, even with the mana ability restriction. I understand the desire to innovate, but this would almost definitely become something more like "T: Add CC. Spend this ability only on activated abilities of Shamans."

This is an odd design. For starters, you don't gain mana advantage unless you're using two different Shaman abilities (as you're giving up the mana from the land). I would have put this ability on something (probably a creature) that doesn't produce mana. Also, the no minimum cost rider makes my R&D funny bone tingle. (The other judges' responses show I'm not alone.) You're playing in dangerous territory, doing something I doubt you'd get Play Design to go along with. Also, even if no Shaman have an activation of 1 (I didn't look), keeping us from ever being able to print one is a bad idea. Finally, a land tapping for C in a three-color tribe is ill-advised.

Design 6

Brighthearth Pendant (rare)
Artifact — Equipment
Whenever you activate an ability of equipped creature that isn't a mana ability, you may pay 2. If you do, or if equipped creature is a Shaman, copy that ability. You may choose new targets for the copy.
Equip 2

"If you do or if {other condition}" is interesting. My instincts tell me it'd be some hassle to add to existing rules, but doable.

This is too similar to Illusionist's Bracers.

This is a more successful way to do what the Shaman tribe is trying to do. I wouldn't do free triggers on this (because it's repeatable). I'd instead include some kind of cost, or limit the activation to once a turn in some way. On the plus side, this card is a little easier to understand than some of your previous designs.

I like this tweak on Rings of Brighthearth and friends. It excites me to find ways to optimize this, and I would hope to find combinations that play differently from Rings. This is a good example of evolutionary design that doesn't just feel arbitrarily derivative, but instead explores existing design space in a way that feels flavorful and compelling.

This design is cute. I'm not sure what danger free copies of activated abilities brings, but it's probably less dangerous than Sacred Circle. I believe this Equipment would be pretty popular. I probably would have made it colored though to allow us to be more aggressive with its costing.

Design 7

Bearer of Lightning (mythic rare)
Creature — Elemental Shaman
Shaman creatures you control have "R: This creature gets +1/+0 until end of turn."
T: Bearer of Lightning deals 3 damage to target or player. Activate this ability only if you control three or more Shamans each with power 3 or greater.

This doesn't feel all that mythic rare to me. Also, the activation for R in a three-color tribe seems off.

Not exciting, I have to jump through so many hoops to get my payoff. Very complex. Of course high complexity is fine for a mythic rare, but this card just doesn't excite me. It feels mythic rare because of complexity, not because of how cool/novel/splashy it is.

I like this card and would be excited to play with it. I like the synergy between these abilities. This card continues to demonstrate your theme's complexity cost, as this would just be printed as "R: Target Shaman creature gets +1/+0 until end of turn." in any other set. This card provides an alternate Shaman theme as a go-wide tribe that cares about power. It's good for one of your tribe's (mythic) rares to lead you down a different path with that tribe, although I'm not sure that was your intention here.

There's a lot going on here. It's a mythic rare though, so you get a bit more room to play around. It ties into your activation theme and has a little built-in game to play, so I'll give it a tentative thumbs up.

Design 8

Mystic Slime (mythic rare)
Creature — Ooze Shaman
When Mystic Slime enters the battlefield, you may activate an ability of each Shaman and/or Ooze you control without paying the mana in its activation cost.
Creatures you control have "2G: Put a +1/+1 counter on this creature. Activate this ability only as a sorcery."

Reducing the cost by "all its mana" screams red alert to me, just like it did last week when Linus suggested it. This isn't an alternative cost, so can X go sky-high? You've got a bigger problem, though. This card's a self-contained bombo. The sorcery timing restriction on the granted ability trumps the permission granted by the trigger.

The enters-the-battlefield effect is great. I don't really like the second ability. I feel the "green" ability here would be to add a lot of mana to only use with other Shaman.

I like this design better than the land, because it's bounded to only one per Shaman per turn. However, this is still a risky design. This is the type of card where I would look to cast it and win the game that turn with some kind of combo.

I really like this line of text; it's innovative and powerful. It's a little weird that this is secretly at least a 5/5, but this and Brighthearth Pendant would get me digging through Magic's history of Shamans with activated abilities. This is easily your best design this round.

You're the one of only two designers to cross-pollinate tribes, which I liked seeing. Shaman and Oozes seem like an odd place to cross the streams though. You're messing with free activations again, but this time it's just a one-shot, so far less dangerous. My biggest complaint with this card is that it doesn't hold together. Bearer of Lightning was complicated, but the pieces at least felt connected. Mystic Slime feels like a recipe where you just threw in ingredients you liked.

Overall Judge Commentary

I appreciate your attempt to be more ambitious in your design. However, this is just too far from New World Order. Not only are there a lot of activated abilities, but there is ability granting and cost reduction. It is demanding that people remember too much just to understand the board state, never mind the combinations of abilities. A lot of people won't enjoy playing against the Shaman deck, and I would have to cut so much, that this is not a fruitful submission. Here your overall theme is very ambitious, but if that fails, then the whole exercise fails. I would prefer ambitious individual card designs, but a sensible overall theme.

Overall I think there are some novel designs and interesting space, but your cards are not the right power level for the rarity you assigned them, and are much too complex as a whole, especially with your lower rarities. I like your vision and the mechanical identity you gave to your tribe, and I think this identity can lead to some very cool cards, but your execution was not successful.

Holy complexity, where are your commons? An important instinct for a designer is to hone in on the hardest problem to solve and do that first. This is where you missed here. You chose a theme that you needed to prove could be done at common with enough variety of designs to fill out a set, and you convinced me of the opposite—and I'm your target demographic for this theme!

I asked you to show us the potential for untapped design space. And you did. I think the implied part was "while still doing the elegant and attention-oriented design that made you win the design test judging last time." I'll be blunt, Jay. You had a bad week. You walked into this challenge the frontrunner and walk out in the middle of the pack. Your commons weren't common (aka most your designs were too complex for their rarity). Many of your designs were unfocused. And you made Play Design really nervous (be careful how often you make things free to cast). There was some good there. I liked that you were exploring untouched tribal design space. You definitely had cards that spurned new design ideas for me. And I saw more of your creative energy. All that said, another week like this week is going to get you in trouble. Show us you can do simple, clean design, that's rarity appropriate, that hints at bigger ideas. For example, I was intrigued by your tap/red mana symbol, but you did nothing to make it shine. The key to showing something new is to put it in its most elegant form so we can see why we might want to use it in the game. I'm hoping we can chalk this week up as a learning lesson and get you back to the top of the pack.


Jay, I believe in you. I know there's an amazing designer in there, but I have to see it on paper. Let Challenge #1 Jay come up with ideas, but have Design Test Jay execute on them.

Challenge #2


Eli Shiffrin

Erik Lauer

Melissa DeTora

Guest judge Aaron Forsythe

Mark Rosewater

Contestant Comments

Bigtopia is a loud set that invites players to experience the thrill of show business.

Ringmaster (GUR)

We ask players to walk a tightrope to keep the big show going—rewarding them for casting a spell on each of their turns.

Rebound (WUBRG)

The return of a popular mechanic helps make that feat possible.

Exalted (GW)
A good ringmaster must keep the audience focused, keeping other performers back in support of the one in the spotlight.

Peak Performance (RWB)

You've got to train hard to perform the most impressive feats of daring. Exalted helps you reach the threshold of 5 power where you really shine.

Rogues (UB)

The circus is a veritable rogue's gallery. Be careful not to cross one, because they're all family.

"The Only Show on Earth" has a secret purpose: This tiny Romani-inspired plane is being used by a devious Planeswalker as a prison in disguise. Planar magic compels inhabitants to aspire to be the circus's greatest performers, a feat accomplished only by the most daring and dedicated. This villain wipes his enemies' minds and deposits them here, where they are swept up into the act, too distracted to wonder about their old lives.

This plane's inhabitants and magic are amusing, unique, risky, and impressive.

Bigtopia's aesthetic is: bright lights/dark shadows; colorful/striped; and loud/bustling. Common art should depict the circus's band and pipe organ to evoke the associated music.

Design 1

Acrobatics (common)
Target creature gets +1/+1 and gains flying until end of turn.
Rebound (If you cast this spell from your hand, exile it as it resolves. At the beginning of your next upkeep, you may cast this card from exile without paying its mana cost.)

This is a good flavorful match, and an appropriate common.

Love it. Rebound looks great here.

Rebound works well here. This card definitely feels like an acrobat jumping around, and it feels common and playable. Nice.

Clean and simple as well as flavorful. A good common. I like the gameplay of rebound, but I'm not quite sure thematically what it's adding to the set. Yes, it makes sense with regard to acrobatics, but that's a tiny part of the set. Does it make sense as a part of circus world? I'm a little more dubious.

Design 2

Unicycle (common)
Artifact — Equipment
Equipped creature gets +1/+1 and can't be blocked by more than one creature.
Equip 3

If a creature with menace rides your Unicycle, it's the most terrifying thing in all existence (obviously) and nothing can block it at all. I think that's pretty awesome, but keep an eye out for whether that makes your set's Limited environment less interactive than you'd like.

This is a funny interpretation of a unicycle.

Common Equipment is very hard to design. This card type has a huge effect on Limited games, and many Equipment designs start out too strong or unfun. I think this is a good example of a common Equipment that is appropriate for Limited and is at a fun rate. Good job.

This one also feels common, but less playable, and much less flavorful. I can imagine an argument that a unicycle makes you more effective in combat and harder to block, but those aren't the words that leap to mind.

It's surprising to me how many people chose to make a Unicycle as an Equipment and not as a Vehicle. I understand that rebound was your one non-evergreen mechanic, but I would have chosen a different card. That said, I'm not sure from a flavor standpoint why this represents a Unicycle. The design is common enough but kind of blah as, to me, the flavor is weak.

Design 3

Knife Thrower (uncommon)
Creature — [Human] Rogue
When Knife Thrower enters the battlefield, target creature an opponent controls gets -1/-1 until end of turn for each differently named Rogue you control.

This feels more like someone who leads a bunch of Rogues than a circus knife thrower.

Interesting . . . Cool build-around for Limited, reminds me of a knife thrower.

The Rogue thing could work, and I think the flavor is okay here. When the card works, it's going to play more like a Ravenous Chupacabra and less like a knife thrower. I'd like it more if the tribal synergies led to more knives being thrown as opposed to a single more powerful knife.

This is cute. I like tying the Knife Thrower to Rogue tribal. I can image adding some carnival elements to a circus world and making many of the "carnie" Rogues feels flavorful. This is a cool uncommon build-around for Draft. You also made the right choice to have all the -1/-1 effects target a single creature.

Design 4

Tightrope (uncommon)
At the beginning of your end step, scry 1. Sacrifice Tightrope unless you have cast a spell this turn.

This doesn't feel like a tightrope to me.

Overall good design, feels like a tightrope. Repeatable scry is complex, but on uncommon or higher it's okay. Good job.

I like this one a lot. You can cast it early assuming you think you can curve out over the next few turns, but its best use is probably in the midgame to make sure you don't run out of gas. The flavor works well.

I get that you're trying to "walk a narrow path," but the connection of mechanics to flavor for me (this is another card showing the subjectivity of top-down as the judges are all over the place) is a little too esoteric and I think it would get missed by most players. Look at Chris's Juggling for a card that's doing something similar but has a stronger flavor connection.

Design 5

Traveling Circus (rare)
Enchantment — Aura
Enchant creature
Enchanted creature has haste.
Whenever Traveling Circus enters the battlefield or you cast a spell, gain control of enchanted creature until end of turn and untap it.
"Who's running away with whom?"

This is a cool and entirely functional card, but you're asking for a lot of rules knowledge and careful attention. Did you expect players to notice that you can cast more spells to untap the creature even after you control it, or that you can use an instant to pull it out of combat and block? I'd need to look at this a little more for any other potential weirdness with other creatures in your set, then you'd need to decide if you want to add some clauses to cut off any of those behaviors or to at least make them more obvious. Or maybe this is the one bonkers Melvin-deluxe card for the set!

This is interesting to think about, but I doubt it is fun to play. I'm skeptical I would keep it in the file for long.

Interesting and flavorfully makes sense. The card doesn't look super fun to me. Repeatable Act of Treason does not sound fun, especially when you have full control over when you get it. These effects are usually sorcery speed for this reason. Makes sense as a rare. Looks very strong in Limited, but in Constructed, I'd usually want a real removal spell. I don't think this is worth a rare slot in a set.

This card is a twist on some of the other repeated control-changing cards we've made in the past in that you can use instants to steal the creature on the opponent's turn as well, and that's kind of nifty. But a circus is not one creature, and this card is not very top-down. If we had asked for a card called "Run Away with the Circus," maybe this would have worked.

Mechanically, I like the design of this card (although Eli is right, you don't get too many of these in a set). The connection to the flavor though doesn't work at all for me.

Design 6

Feats of Strength (rare)
Choose a different mode for each of up to three target creatures you control:
• Put a +1/+1 counter on that creature.
• That creature fights target creature you don't control.
• Destroy target artifact or enchantment [with converted mana cost less than or equal to that creature's power].

This has a nice flavorful feel, gives green some interesting choices and interaction. This is my favorite card of your set.

These three modes are narrow by themselves and when you have three creatures in play the upgrade is not very impressive. I think this card has the complexity of a rare but the power level and coolness factor of an uncommon. Rares need to have a good balance between complex and cool, and while I think you're doing better in terms of complexity, I think this card could do something a little more exciting.

The word "feats" seems to lead most people to modal spells, which makes sense, but isn't scoring anyone points for originality. The last mode is really weird without the parenthetical, since the card implies you need to have creatures for each mode. With that text, two of the three modes at least feel like feats of strength. Not sure this is an exciting rare, or just rare because it's has weird targeting restrictions.

Again, I like the mechanical execution, but have some issues with the flavor connection. Three modes and three targets is a cool idea, though I understand it's not quite what you did here. I think we could make a splashy cycle out of. You connected the flavor to the larger concept of "feats of strength" rather than what it means within the context of a circus. In a circus, it's used to refer to a singular person who is abnormally strong (a strongman or strongwoman) performing "feats of strength." Putting the effects across multiple creatures doesn't line up with this circus flavor.

Design 7

Rosella, Trapeze Artist (mythic rare)
Legendary Creature — [Human] Rogue
Whenever Rosella attacks, exile the top card of your library. You may cast that card.
Whenever you cast a spell, Rosella gets +X/+0 until end of turn, where X is that spell's converted mana cost.
Rosella has flying as long as its power is 5 or greater.

Another layer snag—you can't have a creature gain a keyword based on its power. This one's tricky because a beginning-of-combat trigger won't work with the on-attack trigger, so you're going to need to redesign how it gains flying in some way.

I am not sure this is a trapeze artist. It is also undercosted, and difficult to put at a proper spot.

I think this card is great on multiple levels. Flavor, power level, wow factor. Fun play pattern. All abilities make sense as a package. Very nice design.

I like the idea of a trapeze artist that can gain flying, but this package reads more to me like a human cannonball than a trapeze artist. Red, haste, flying, huge power? Cannonball.

This is another cool design. Red's flying tends to be restricted to Dragons and Phoenixes, so I'd probably add in white or blue and make this a multicolored card. As it's legendary, that would make it a bit more versatile as a commander as well.

Design 8

Pyramus the Magician (mythic rare)
Legendary Creature — [Human] Rogue
When Pyramus the Magician enters the battlefield, create a 1/1 blue Illusion creature token and draw a card.
Sacrifice an Illusion: You may cast Pyramus the Magician from the battlefield (for its mana cost).
"Of course I'm a magician. Could I do this without magic?"

Casting things from the battlefield? What a circus. Especially since it can die in response to the ability. Feel free to test this out, but by the time it gets to the end of the process, expect it to be something more like "Exile CARDNAME and an Illusion you control: You may cast CARDNAME from exile."

This looks very frustrating to play against. You attack with two creatures, I block both, draw a card, and have the same board as I did before you attacked. I could imagine a game state where I am ahead, and am leaving an extra four mana up. There will be a long time where you are extremely unlikely to win, but I am slowly and safely accumulating my resources before even trying to win.

Casting something from the battlefield technically works (I asked Eli!), but the rules people aren't big fans of it. A wording of "2UU, sac an Illusion: Exile CARDNAME. You may cast it without paying its mana cost" is just as functional, as is "2UU, sac an Illusion: Exile CARDNAME, then return it to the battlefield." What I dislike about this card is the repetitive play patterns it creates. The Illusion token is not usually going to be used as a creature, but more as a fog (block two things, sac the Illusion, recast this). This is repeatable turn after turn as long as you have 2UU. With weak stats, I don't see this card doing much else. It would have been interesting if it didn't create an Illusion, but you had to meet another condition (that you didn't just get for free by resolving this) to be able to recast this.

Borderline web comic. You found a fancy way to write "2UU, Sacrifice an Illusion: Exile CARDNAME, then return it to the battlefield. Activate this only as a sorcery." Having to write rules and answer scads of questions for functionality that is barely different from existing well-understood templates is not a great idea.

All the judges are basically saying the same thing. You chose to do a splashy wording when a simpler, more understandable wording was available. Now, there are times I'll defend doing that, but not when the splashier version causes excessive rules confusion. Also, I'm not a fan of sacrificing something that literally just replaces itself with upside. There's some fun flavor here and I like the idea of making Illusion creature tokens, but I'd be happier if there was something a little more interesting to do with them.

Overall Judge Commentary

Your commons are very good, but I don't like your mythic rares as a pair. Planeswalkers tend to give repeated card advantage, so we are unlikely to have many other mythic rares that give an extra card per turn. However, both of your mythic rares do exactly that. It is important to showcase a variety of effects at each rarity.

Overall, I think you have good ideas. I love the use of rebound here. I think one thing to watch out for is cards that create repetitive play patterns. Your Act of Treason rare and blue mythic rare both did that, and both looked problematic. I think both of those cards can be executed in different ways and have better play patterns. If you have two choices—one is to use the ability of your card and the other is to cast a spell from your hand—and the answer is always use this card, then that is a sign of repetitive play patterns. I think you improved a lot from last week in terms of your overcomplexity. I think your next step is finding the right balance between complexity and fun, especially in your higher rarity cards.

I found about two-and-a-half of Jay's cards to be great. His mix of mechanics—Rogue tribal, rebound, high-power-matters—didn't paint a particularly cohesive picture for me. Jay's in the bottom band of contestants for me this week.

This wasn't a great week for you. Interestingly, my biggest issue is a different one from the other judges. I think your flavor connection was off. This was a top-down challenge, so the thing I most look for is the ability to convey flavor through mechanics, and you struggled in this area. There were moments of greatness (I really liked Rosella, for example), but more missed than hit for me. I also agree with Aaron that I didn't get a good overall sense of what your circus world was up to mechanically. This felt like a bunch of random cards rather than cards all from the same set. Finally, I like rebound as a mechanic, but unless you were planning for the acrobats and trapeze artists to take up a larger portion of the set than I would assume, I'm worried the mechanic wouldn't feel circus enough.


Jay, I think you have good designer instincts and your designs tend to look like they'll be fun to play. I know you work on larger card set projects for yourself, so I think it might help you to take a step back and think of the design challenge as a larger set challenge of which you are only showing a few representative cards. I think if you focus a little more on the forest instead of the trees, it will help you bring more clarity to your submission.

Challenge #3


Eli Shiffrin

Erik Lauer

Melissa DeTora

Guest judge Jules Robins

Mark Rosewater

Contestant Comments

Jund fans, with our return to Alara, please savor bloodspill.

Cylian Physician – Bloodspill comes in three forms. First is this conditional: Attacking with a 1/1 and a 2/1 will do the trick.

Share Pain – Second form. Warriors like you don't begrudge the cost of doing business. When your enemy is too cowardly to defend themselves? Gravy.

Put those forms together to finally see the most representative use of bloodspill: Bloodthorn Acolyte.

Bloodthorn Acolyte – Acolyte rewards you for dealing damage to your opponent, but you can also choose to pay 3 life to enable it yourself. Jundians are happy to contribute their own blood to the gruesome cause.

Jund Vengeant – I'd pay 3 life to surprise an attacking 2/3. If they're too big to ambush, use the damage they deal to fuel the swing back.

Goring Taurean – It's unfortunate that double strike doesn't help after regular damage, but it's easy to arm Taurean before damage thanks to bloodspill.

Field of Gore – Field turns on your Taureans and Acolytes with a single payment. Unlike shock lands, it's also possible to use it immediately at no cost as long as you can make an opponent bleed—something I suspect you enjoy anyhow.

Blood Will Flow – Here's the third form of bloodspill. This Killing Wave will do a lot of work in your bloodspill deck, exsanguinating your opponent or their creatures and turning on bloodspill. If only you could benefit from spilling blood multiple times in a turn . . .

Insatiable Kresh – Bolas's villainous influence has twisted Kresh from a metaphorical Sanguinarian to a literal one.

Bloodspill engages both players in a heart-pumping struggle for life.

Design 1

Cylian Physician (common)
Creature — Vampire Cleric
When Cylian Physician enters the battlefield, if you spilled blood this turn, gain 3 life. (You spill blood whenever a player loses 3 or more life.)

This is a fine common to get across that we are looking for packets of 3 or more life.

This is a fine common with your mechanic. I'll play it on turn two and be fine not getting the reward, but if I've damaged my opponent already, it's a reasonable bonus. That said, I expected this to be a green card. It's weird for a black card to just gain life. Usually there is life draining or life gain when a creature deals damage or dies. Just a straight-up life gain on a mono-black card is weird to me.

This design thematically feels like a Vampire, gives a moderate reward for playing with the mechanic without becoming unplayable without it, and aesthetically links numbers to create a satisfying package. All those good things said, there's a certain amount of dissatisfaction that will come with this card being extremely hard to maximize. Playing this on turn two won't trigger its ability. Trying to meet that goal for every card with this mechanic would restrict your mana costs too much, but it's wise to be wary of how many designs like this you'd need to justify the mechanic. This might have been a good spot to make a slightly more complex or less clean common that would let players feel like they "did it." (e.g., "Whenever you spill blood, gain 1 life.")

I'm a bit torn about bloodspill. I like that it's flavorful and cares about something game relevant, allowing for a lot of interactions with minimal text. I'm less excited that it might discourage attacking and cause games to slow down. I'm also worried that not enough players understand that damage becomes life loss. I do like that you made a simple common with a straightforward "enters-the-battlefield" trigger, but I wish you'd chosen a mono-black effect. (Melissa is correct that black only gets life when you drain something or in conjunction with sacrificing something.)

Design 2

Share Pain (common)
You may spill your own blood. (To spill your own blood, lose 3 life.)
Target creature gets -X/-X until end of turn, where X is the most life any player lost this turn.

This is confusing. We have a similarly named mechanic, but it's different. A goal we have with names is that as you learn names, it becomes easier to understand what the other cards do. I am not sure why you wouldn't just write out "you may lose 3 life." Secondly, this deals with the total amount of life a player lost, not the packets of 3 or more life. I might change the "spilled blood" mechanic to look for a player who lost 3 or more life.

I dislike how narrow this spell is. Hard to cast before combat (because no one has been damaged yet), and hard to cast when I'm losing and have a low life total. I dislike the words here, and would prefer a cleaner "You lose N life, then . . ." The words you wrote here need to be processed. First, read the words, then understand why you would want to lose the life, etc. This is a hard-to-understand common in my opinion.

This is certainly some pretty different design space from your last card! Life payments appeal to a pretty narrow and Spikey group of players, so I'm skeptical that this space would ultimately prove worth all the complexity it adds to learning the mechanic. Assuming we did want to do this space, this is a solid design, but not a good common. It uses X (which, although not strictly prohibited at common, is a big hurdle for a lot of newer players), but moreover it asks you to track a quantity you weren't paying attention to. Other bloodspill cards are doing a binary check on the number 3, but this demands you keep paying attention after that threshold is met.

One of my pet peeves is mechanics that work differently on different cards. You spilling your own blood is different than blood being spilled (the first is active and the second is passive—that is, the first allows you to activate it while the second requires for something else to have happened). This is going to cause confusion. I would rather you just have spells that let you pay life and thus trigger bloodspill. Next, this is not a common design. First, it uses X. That's a red flag at common. Second, it lets you pay life, yet the effect of X might not be based on the action you're taking. Third, you made it an instant, increasing the chance people try to use it incorrectly in combat.

Design 3

Bloodthorn Acolyte (common)
Creature — Goblin Barbarian
Bloodthorn Acolyte enters the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter on it if you spilled blood this turn or spill your own blood. (You spill blood whenever a player loses 3 or more life. To spill your own blood, lose 3 life.)

This is a good tension-filled creature. Given that you have two common creatures, it would be better to avoid putting the same converted mana cost, power, and toughness on both of them.

Appropriate common for this mechanic, and has Standard applications. That said, I am not a fan that your mechanic is actually two different things: a check for loss of life and a life payment. I would stick to only one.

This design skirts the "don't play it on turn two" issue, but bringing the two executions of this mechanic onto one card adds a lot of sequencing complexity for a player trying to maximize their plays—enough that I'd red-flag it at common.

You have one common where you need to spill blood, a second common that wants you to spill your own blood, and a third that lets you do either? I'm in the camp that all rarities should just have one option, but if you have more than one, at least put only one option at common. I agree with Erik that you should make your two common creatures with your mechanic different from one another.

Design 4

Jund Vengeant (uncommon)
Creature — Human Warrior
You may cast this spell as though it had flash if you spilled blood this turn or spill your own blood. (You spill blood whenever a player loses 3 or more life. To spill your own blood, lose 3 life.)

Be careful mixing passive conditions and active costs like this. Draconic Roar and friends did that in Dragons of Tarkir, for an idea of what the words for this look like, though this would be even weirder.

Flash is a bit of an oddball, in that it is harder to take make someone lose 3 life. This seems appropriate at uncommon.

I like this design. I like the choices here. Can ambush or punish my opponent for attacking me. But with previous feedback I dislike that the mechanic is doing too much. I think this is a cool card that stands on its own and doesn't need a keyworded mechanic. Also, it doesn't feel green, with the life payment.

This card plays well spilling your own blood, but presents a lot of potentially frustrating moments gaining its ability from blood being otherwise spilled. Casting it with flash on your own turn after damaging an opponent doesn't do much, even though you "did the thing," and while there's value to being able to cast this card at your opponent's end step after taking a hit, it's likely to make players aware of the lost value of not having flashed in to block.

I can have a surprise blocker if somehow before combat damage I've lost 3 or more life? I know there are tricks to make this work, but it's quite frustrating if you don't have the trick. You're going to want to pick effects that you're happy getting postcombat. And as Melissa said, spilling your own blood in colors other than black is going to feel odd. We have allowed all five colors to pay life in the right environments though, so this isn't a deal-breaker.

Design 5

Goring Taurean (uncommon)
Creature — Minotaur Berserker
Goring Taurean has double strike as long as you spilled blood this turn. (You spill blood whenever a player loses 3 or more life.)

This is a bit odd in how weak it is when you don't spill blood.

Awkward card. Double strike matters before combat damage is dealt, so this is hard to turn on unless you have a lot of ways to damage yourself, face burn for your opponent, etc. This is the type of card I would expect to have the life payment, but it doesn't!

This design is going to trick players and lead to arguments. Most players don't know all the intricacies of how the rules work, and just assume their cards can do everything they look like they might be able to. As a result, they'll expect this card to get a second hit when it attacks or blocks and normal damage causes them to spill blood, but the first strike damage step will already be long past without another first striker, so instead they'll get nothing. Consequently, we would never print this card.

Again, you gave an ability you really want to gain before combat damage based on something that will most often trigger after combat damage. Double strike is particularly odd because if you have another creature with first strike or double strike (or triple strike in silver-border Magic), the creature will gain double strike just in time to not do damage twice. I understand you plan to have support for this mechanic to enable things when you need them, but if your designs can't work without the support, that's usually a sign that there's a problem.

Design 6

Field of Gore (rare)
Field of Gore enters the battlefield tapped unless you spilled blood this turn or spill your own blood. (You spill blood whenever a player loses 3 or more life. To spill your own blood, lose 3 life.)
T: Add B, R, or G.

A tri-land is a Constructed card in a typical Standard environment, though you could consider making one a tad stronger. A "bolt land" is already very powerful: in Modern it is common to use a fetch land to get a shock land. To add more onto that is inappropriate.

This card enables three-plus-color decks too easily. Paying 3 life is a drawback for sure, but these lands will slant the format aggressively. This card widens the gap between strong aggro and strong control, and would push control decks out of Standard. I think if you were looking for a land that could turn on your bloodspill cards, an uncommon tri-land that enters the battlefield tapped and had an activation with a life payment would be cool.

This card is appealing on its own, but causes significant issues for the wider set and for Standard. Trying to print this card requires either a mismatch in mana fixing, or placing a constraint on all of the shards to have a thematic restriction they can use for a tri-land. As for Standard, it's important that mana fixing capabilities are pretty even across color combinations to avoid all of the strongest decks gravitating to the colors with the best fixing. We normally do dual- and tri-land cycles with the same condition to ensure their balance, and asking for five disparate conditions is almost guaranteed to result in one of them being significantly stronger or weaker than the others.

This design is more functional than pretty. It's the kind of card you have to teach less enfranchised players that it's worth actually playing because it won't seem attractive at first blush. In general, I like to be careful not to make mana generation that discourages some subset of players from playing it. (Remember that some players are bad at evaluating cards, either ignoring some aspect of it or not immediately sensing that this is strictly better than an "enters the battlefield" tapped tri-land. The knowledge of the power of shock lands might help, though.)

Design 7

Blood Will Flow (rare)
For each creature, spill its controller's blood unless they sacrifice it. (A player loses 3 life when their blood is spilled.)

The extra terminology isn't helpful.

This card is hard to understand even with reminder text. It reads like I have to pay 3 life per creature, even the opponent's. I understand that's not your intent or how it works, but using these words is confusing, because it's telling the spell's controller to do something (spill its blood). This card is Killing Wave, which is not an innovative design, and I don't think this card is worth the keyworded mechanic. 1BB, "For each creature, it's controller sacrifices it unless they pay 3 life" is cleaner and more elegant text and removes confusion.

This is a cool punisher effect. The card is a little bit odd in that it loudly says to play it like a sweeper (that is to say, creatureless), but most of its actual strength comes with being able to put your opponent's life total under pressure. Having a few cards that surprise players in their use is positive; we just don't want too high a density. This card is also fairly weak, but that's appropriate as forcing these very Spikey decisions on a lot of players who didn't opt into them is liable to make them have less fun.

While this might seem like you're just using an already established ability in a new way, this is actually a new ability. Spilling your own blood is allowing you to pay 3 life (usually with the promise that life loss will be rewarded elsewhere on the card). Spilling the opponent's blood, is a punisher effect, forcing the opponent sent to choose one of two options. While related, those are actually different things. I appreciate you trying to maximize how much design space you can get out of your mechanic, but you're making similar yet functionally different mechanics rather than tweaking your mechanic.

Design 8

Insatiable Kresh (mythic rare)
Legendary Creature — Vampire Warrior
When Insatiable Kresh enters the battlefield, spill each opponent's blood. (A player loses 3 life whenever their blood is spilled.)
Whenever you spill blood, put that many +1/+1 counters on Insatiable Kresh. (You spill blood whenever a player loses 3 or more life, and get 3+ counters as a result.)

I can't really tell what Kresh's last ability is doing with that reminder text. Up until now, I'd have assumed that Shock plus Prodigal Pyromancer would spill blood, but Kresh's telling me that doesn't count. This one is your actual third use of bloodspill—you're watching for a one-time event instead of an aggregate history. Blood Will Flow is just the same as "spill your own blood," but with various different bloods all flowing at once (eww). You've definitely got way too much going on with this keyword at this point.

This is very strange. Now it is packets of 3 or more life, put the counters aren't the number of packets, it is the size of those packets.

I think this is a great design, but I'm still having a hard time processing the words. Spill blood means that any player needs to lose 3 life, but you are using the words "you spill blood," which is confusing to me. I would expect it to say "whenever a player spills blood," but I don't really see a reason to keyword this. I think this card is nice. It looks fun in Standard and sweet in Commander, but I would change the first ability to read "each opponent loses 3 life" and "spill blood" to read "lose life."

This card will generate a lot of confusion. It puts a wording challenge for the two uses of the mechanic front and center: while the way they refer to players is technically consistent, in the context of spilling opponents' blood, checking if you've spilled blood is going to read to many players like it's just checking if you've lost 3-plus life. That confusion is more likely to come up for players that haven't played with many other bloodspill cards, but for those who have . . . Casting two Shocks on your opponent is going to turn on Cylian Physician, but won't trigger Kresh. This sort of inconsistency makes it much harder for players to get to a point where they feel like they understand the mechanic, and most people find it hard to have fun while actively confused. Finally, the way this card scales up in multiplayer will make it appealing, but only because it's ludicrously powerful. Players are always excited by power, but we can't just scale up the power level of cards in the game indefinitely, so that appeal comes at the price of excitement for future cards. In Commander specifically, this card just posing a one-shot commander-damage kill with any effect that grants double strike is not going to make for good gameplay.

I'm starting to get confused about what counts as spilling blood. I thought the mechanic just cared about any player losing life for any reason, but now you're talking about the act of spilling blood, which makes it sounds like you only count when you're actively spilling it. This is a side effect of you trying to use one concept to do too many things. It starts to break down what the mechanic even means. Also, why does this trigger off of spilling blood and not life loss? Do I only get counters when life loss happens in chunks of 3 or more? And it says "when you spill blood" but the card implies "when anyone spills blood." There's a design buried in here that seems like it might be cool, but I have no idea what exactly it even does.

Overall Judge Commentary

You're trying to use "spill blood" as both active (spill your own blood) and passive (if blood was spilled). That's fine in general, but you have them meaning very different things. One's a conditional check for something that happens all the time, the other sounds like it could be that, but it's really saying "pay 3 life." Players reacted poorly to the "two meanings" implementation of haunt, and I'd bet they'll have the same issue here. In normal design, I'd expect you to forge ahead with testing this, but you're going to need to chop something, either into its own keyword or un-keyworded mechanic.

You have packets of 3 life, pay 3 life, the most life a player lost this turn, and amount of life lost in a packet of at least 3 life. I did not enjoy this presentation. If you had picked one thing such as "if a player has lost 3 or more life this turn," there might be something. You could still have cards that let you pay 3 life, without creating keywords. An extra pass to create a coherent theme would have helped a lot.

Positives: What I like about this is that is checks for both players. I can play an aggro deck and usually my cards will be on, but if I am playing cards with life payments or my opponent is beating me down, I can get the bonus that way as well.

Negatives: First I think this mechanic is secretly two mechanics. One is a mechanic that "turns on" whenever a player loses 3 life. I think that is fine when it's on a handful of cards, but doing this too frequently it creates a hyper-aggressive Limited format. The second mechanic you made is "pay 3 life for a bonus." Each on their own is fine, but I think combining these into one mechanic is confusing. Does spill your own blood mean that I lost 3 life that turn, or have to pay life as part of this cost? I would have just made spill blood mean only one thing. It's cleaner and once you know what it means, you'll never have to read reminder text again. In your version, I have to double check to see if the spell has a life payment or turns on when a player already lost life that turn.

There are a lot of things to like about bloodspill. The baseline morbid-esque version fosters a number of distinct gameplay patterns: attacking with creatures, dealing damage directly to your opponent, paying your own life as a cost, and acting as a comeback mechanic on instants when you're getting beaten down. It cleanly fits into three colors, gives you a good reason to build new decks, and gives the player a quest that meshes well with basic Magic gameplay and cards from across Magic's history. Despite coming up with the best mechanic design of the bunch, I found your execution lacking. The version of bloodspill that lets you pay life muddies the message about what the mechanic's doing while having pretty narrow appeal, and the baseline mechanic already could have appealed to those very same players with the addition of a few independent life-payment cards. We asked you to show off range, but also to make cards that would all go in the same set, and the set would be worse off for these divergences in the core mechanic's functionality. You also completely ignored the low-hanging fruit of the mechanic for a low rarity design: a four-plus mana creature that will naturally curve at a point where the player can be triggering bloodspill in combat. You found a mechanic that has good gameplay without doing anything fancy. Use that space!

Jay, this design was a mess for me. Buried deep inside it is a potentially cool idea (mechanically caring about damage), but your execution had numerous problems, the biggest being that you tried to use one name to cover three distinct mechanics. This leads to all sorts of templating confusion as the player is trying to figure out which version of the mechanic you mean. When "my opponent spills blood," for example, does that mean they've lost 3 life or they've been forced to pay 3 life or they've opted to pay 3 life to prevent a different effect from happening? In your quest to consolidate everything under one umbrella, you've changed effects that we already have a template for. Why not just use "pay 3 life," rather than "spill your own blood"? It's a template Magic's used for most of its lifetime. Ideas are important, but they have to be executed well, and you fell down on this challenge in that area.


Jay, I'm sorry to say that we have to let you go this week. The competition is just getting tighter and tighter and you've had a few weeks where you've ended up on the bottom half of the challenges. You have the honor, along with Scott Van Essen, of being just one of two people to ever be in two different Great Designer Search Top 8s, and I know you have great potential. Keep at it. I have faith we will one day work together.

Challenge #4

Jay was eliminated prior to this challenge.

Challenge #5

Jay was eliminated prior to this challenge.

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