Guest judge Ken Nagle
Set: Khans of Tarkir
Khans of Tarkir is an interesting set because of morph, three-color wedges, and its five individual keywords . . . and lack of Dragons. We try to make our sets less busy than this nowadays, but it's in my humble opinion the best choice so far for "cards that could've been in this set."
While it was tough to decide on a creature type for Challenge #1, this challenge was easy. Khans of Tarkir has a lot of meaning for me: it's my favorite set (and thus the one I'm most familiar with), has my favorite mechanic (morph), and was released around the point I began designing tabletop games in earnest. Its mechanics also interlock in a really satisfying way, which makes it fun to design for.
It was tough to find a good balance between "new cards" with "cards that work in the existing set environment." I don't know where the inspiration came from, but I eventually decided to treat the challenge like I was designing Khans of Tarkir in an alternate timeline where everything was slightly different. Some of the cards are alternate interpretations of cards in the set, while others interact with the existing themes in new ways. I also tried to hit the as-fans of an average Khans pack.
Since this is my last blurb, I want to thank my playtesters for being so helpful and generous with their time, and thank the judges for choosing me. This has been the hardest game design work I've ever done, but also the most rewarding. I am immensely grateful.
Favorite card from this batch: Forest.
Just kidding. Kaisham Trickster. I saved an uncommon slot specifically to play with the five-mana-morph rule and I'm pleased with its elegance.
Basic Land — Forest
Finally, someone got it right!
A basic land that taps for green? Fascinating!
Shearing Speed (common)
Enchantment — Aura
Enchanted creature gets +1/+1 and has first strike.
R: Enchanted creature gains haste until end of turn.
This is a nice design that looks at first like it is best in Mardu, but is great with prowess creatures.
My least favorite thing about this card is the R activated ability doesn't do anything a turn later. Makes me think this wants to be a RW card that enters with haste. I think the design is fine.
This is asking for an enemy two-color cycle, which is the correct kind for fitting in two clans like RWB Mardu and URW Jeskai. I attempted this with say Mardu Runemark in Fate Reforged, but in retrospect the +2/+2 played to similarly to each other. I can imagine this cycle being lower impact but more different from each other with a smattering of powers, toughnesses, keywords, and mana costs.
I like that you recognized that the common cards with off-color activations were always enemy as we wanted to encourage players to draft enemy colors as it leaves open two wedge options. I agree with Melissa that I would have preferred a red activation that would have had a function beyond the turn you cast it.
Ainok Companion (common)
Creature — Hound Warrior
When Ainok Companion enters the battlefield, put a +1/+1 counter on another target Warrior you control.
This is very functional common that works well with multiple themes.
A fine common that fits nicely in Khans.
Warrior-matters for the white-black color pair. Common is the right place for a "threshold 1" bonus like this where you only need one other Warrior to help. A clean card, though I would have been more partial to a "threshold 0" card like "3W 2/2 ETB +1/+1 counter on target Warrior" similar to Ixalan's Jade Guardian. As is, it feels too under curve for anyone not already going Warriors, but I do like the 2/3 stats which are louder in this morph environment of three-drop 2/2s.
I would have had this put a +1/+1 on "target Warrior" rather than "another target Warrior" (and costed it appropriately). It would have promoted Warrior tribal without trapping this card in your hand.
Taigam's Studies (common)
Draw two cards. Then discard a card unless you exile three cards from your graveyard.
This is an interesting twist on delve.
Great design. Nice reward if you have a full graveyard. I like instant on here, and I like the "fixed" delve.
Here's the fabled "Instant 2U Draw two" we keep not printing. This one is upgrading Catalog with an optional resource spend. The name implies I cast this after Taigam's Scheming! Perhaps this is the card we were supposed to print instead of Treasure Cruise? I'll go with that and give this designer plenty of credit.
I like this design. I would have referenced watermarks as this was a set that used them and this clearly is a Sultai card.
Aven Skytracer (common)
Creature — Bird Monk
Common morphs should simpler to appreciate. If this had a casting cost of URW, and a morph cost of 4U, it would be simple to understand. It is an efficient flier if you have all three colors, but when you don't draw all three colors you still get to make your flier.
This card is what I would expect from a Jeskai flier with morph.
Implies another morph cycle, one that I'm pretty sure we tried. I appreciate the cleanliness but I doubt there's enough payoff here for the URW cost. There's very little wiggle room for morph stats since Erik Lauer wouldn't let a morph "eat" another morph for less than five mana. The third point of toughness won't work, the 4 power is almost unprecedented on a common flier. I'm getting rather nit-picky here, but I'm just trying to demonstrate there are fewer knobs here than usual and this card is trying to be one of a cycle of five. It's likely why we went with Ponyback Brigade and friends.
We purposely didn't make any of our three-color common gold cards require MNO (one mana of each color) to cast or to morph. A three-color morph cost is particularly bad because you have to cast the morph card at three, so there's no way to maximize the morph cost. I do like the innovation of a monocolor creature you can morph cheaper for three-colors, but I think it needed to be a bigger creature so probably needed to be a rarity higher than common.
Salt Road Bandit (common)
Creature — Human Rogue
CARDNAME can't be blocked by face-down creatures.
This is an interesting line of text, but it isn't all that useful here. I wasn't going to trade my morph for your 2/2. This creature needs to be impactful enough that my opponent would want to block it with a morph, so the text that they can't block it is important.
Interesting line of text, but I would expect this to be on a blue card.
Nice card that we can only print here. Print them while we can. We don't normally hose the main set's mechanic, but we were willing to print Dinosaur Hunter and River Darter in Rivals of Ixalan. This feels in that vein, even if the concept artist won't be happy. I think there's room for 3/2 or 3/1 here just because there's sooo many three-drop 2/2s in the set, so let's mix it up where possible. If I have five open mana, my three-drop 2/2 morph probably won't be blocked by my opponent's face down creature anyway.
I agree with Erik and Ken that I would prefer this if were a body that a face down 2/2 would want to block to make the ability mean something. I also agree with Ken that I wouldn't have done this as a 2/2 in a world of 2/2 morph creatures.
Tear Apart (common)
Destroy target creature.
Raid – That creature's controller loses 2 life if you attacked with a creature this turn.
Fine common, but weak. A bit of tension here because it's a black removal spell that you can't use to clear blockers unless you decide to miss out on the raid, but the upside is not very strong anyway. I think this card wants a better raid bonus so that you have more of a choice of whether you use this before or after combat.
This is asking to kill a creature post-combat for a bonus. Reminds me of Arrow Storm from the same set but at least the numbers are a little different. A serviceable card, but I would've liked to see an instant that destroyed a tapped creature with raid upside.
I'm glad you made this a sorcery as an instant would have been a combat trick that works but that confused many players (killing your only blocker after attacking is declared but before blocking is); that would have been unlikely to be a common. I agree with Melissa and Ken that you probably could have had a better rider.
Temur Forager (common)
Creature — Human
Ferocious — T, discard a card: Draw a card. Activate this ability only if you control a creature with power 4 or greater.
This is a fine card, but it is too close to Bloodfire Mentor.
Looting is very strong in Limited. As you can see, over time we have had fewer Merfolk Looters at common and more weak-rate ones like Rummaging Goblin and Research Assistant. Merfolk Looters make games of Magic more likely to play out the same, because you are more likely to find what you need when you're drawing two cards a turn. That takes some fun out of Magic. With this design, I think that this is too consistent of a looter. It's 1/3, free to activate, and the condition is trivial. I'd make this uncommon.
I felt the ferocious cards that weren't so beatdown-y did good work—Feed the Clan, Whisperer of the Wilds, and Stubborn Denial. I think it's debatable whether Temur Battle Rage (my design) is fun or unfun. This ferocious frummager feels great for being part of the first batch of cards since it's an every-turn value card rather than pushing as much damage as possible into your opponent's life total. I like the stats and rarity as well. I find myself wishing I'd made this card in Fate Reforged.
One of the difficulties of this challenge was finding new design space while understanding limitations built into the set. We made a conscious choice to hold off activated abilities with ferocious for Fate Reforged. This is a nice design, but something we wouldn't have done in Khans of Tarkir. Also, I would have put a mana cost on the activation.
Hidden Strength (common)
Target creature gets +2/+2 until end of turn. If it's face down, it also gains indestructible until end of turn.
This is nice for communicating that green has extra morphs.
A fun and interesting common.
Great name! Great design. It even forward plants well for manifest. Let's try mana cost G!
I like how you took a simple spell and added a rider that opens up some interactive possibilities. Good job!
Scouting Report (common)
Search your library for two basic land cards with different names, reveal them, and put them into your hand. Then shuffle your library.
If you find only one land, can you put it into your hand? Search effects usually use "up to" to make it clear. If you want the player to have to find exactly two or zero cards with certain criteria, that'd be an interesting new space that might need new words for clarity.
Interesting card for the wedge block. Appropriate for common. Sad that Jeskai and Mardu don't have access to mana fixing this strong though.
While a mana-fixing green common seems great for this set, we actually went out of our way to not include such a thing. We already have gain-1-life lands and Banners. There aren't any gold commons except the ones that can be morphed. We were trying to avoid the soupy five-color problem of giving green a Cultivate-type card. I'm happy with this design maybe at 1G in another set looking to help green decks splash.
Ken is right that we purposely avoided this type of card in Khans of Tarkir. That said, this is a clever way to make a multicolor land-fetching spell. My biggest concern is it might make it too easy to play more than three colors. I might have gotten a Forest and a non-Forest basic land instead.
Three-Section Staff (common)
Artifact — Equipment
Equipped creature gets +1/+1.
Whenever you cast a noncreature spell, untap equipped creature.
This is nice, but adds too much board complexity for a common. Generally, it is nice if you can ignore your opponent's tapped creatures when you are contemplating attacking.
I think that instant "gotcha" untapping on a creature is not appropriate on a common Equipment. Since this is an Equipment, it's easier to forget about since it usually sits underneath your creature. I think this line of text is fine on a creature at common, but I'd be careful with this on an Equipment. It also has the added functionality of untapping many attackers in a turn if you move the Equipment around and play a bunch of spells. This is stronger than it reads.
Common Equipment are difficult to make fun. I want to reiterate this is the first ever set to have prowess. I don't think we'd print a common "pseudo-prowess" card in the prowess debut set. Why not just an Equipment or Aura that grants prowess?
I agree with Erik and Melissa that this has too much "gotcha" potential for common. At uncommon, I like this as Jeskai Equipment. It's another place I would have mentioned using a watermark.
Rakshasa's Rites (uncommon)
Whenever one or more cards are put into exile from your graveyard, you may pay 2. If you do, target creature gets -2/-2 until end of turn.
"Whenever one or more" triggers often make us question what are simultaneous separate events and what's one event, and sometimes even what are sequential events that we never really thought about. Look over cards that will exile cards from graveyards in nearby sets to make sure you won't cause any awful questions in Standard.
This is an interesting way of rewarding a delve deck. While I suspect this is too weak, it has lot of obvious development knobs.
Looks like a fun, rewarding, and interesting build-around enchantment for Limited.
We're getting weird. An uncommon build-around seems like the aim. The -2/-2 is taking advantage of the format's most prevalent power/toughness combination. I think this has one too many "if" statements—if you have this out and then have cards in the graveyard and then play a delve card and then pay 2 and then the opponent controls a creature that -2/-2 works against. I would've been happy with "1B Enchantment Whenever one or more cards are exiled from your graveyard, you gain that much life."
I like this design. My biggest concern is whether or not there's a high enough as-fan to make this theme work as a build-around in Draft (for example, there are only four commons, all delve cards, that enable this). If not, I'd move this card to rare to make it a Constructed build-around.
Kaisham Trickster (uncommon)
Creature — Efreet Monk
1U: Switch Kaisham Trickster's power and toughness until end of turn.
I see what you did there with the five-mana-morph rule. Just be aware that power-and-toughness switching is pretty weird with just about any other power-and-toughness modifying.
This is a clever way of playing around with the morph rule.
This is interesting. I think the rarity/complexity is appropriate. Looks skill-testing and rewarding.
This hints at another enemy color cycle, this time of morphs. It's debatable if this is just mono-blue or mono-red but I get that it's trying to fit between Temur and Jeskai. Another way to do this is "1U: -2/+2 until end of turn." Nice work.
I get that you're playing around with the "five-mana-morph rule" (no creature with a morph cost less than five can "eat" a 2/2, meaning best one in combat and survive), but I think you made a card that's fighting what's fun. Players want to unmoprh their creature and then activate it to do extra damage. I would be tempted to make this bigger (to justify a five-mana morph cost) with a low power and high toughness that you can swap into a high-power creature if you have the extra mana.
Dragonclaw Trophy (uncommon)
1, T: Add G, U, or R.
3GUR, T, sacrifice Dragonclaw Trophy: Create a 4/4 green Bear creature token. Activate this ability only when you could cast a sorcery.
This looks like it would be part of a cycle. The easiest appealing card member of the cycle is the one that makes a creature token. So, unless they are all going to make creature tokens, the card I want to see is the appealing design that does not make a creature token.
I would make mana fixing like this common in a three-color Limited format. I think the rate on this is super weak, and you're only playing this if you really need the fixing and can reliably activate the creature ability. However, at common, this rate is more appropriate and having the option to make a 4/4 late game is cool on a mana fixer this weak.
I do like these "cycles." I had a cycle of "Mana Cylixes" in Return to Ravnica for a while. It always peeved me that the Banners were additional three-drops in morph world. This might be clean enough for common, but you've positioned them more around Kolaghan's Monument or so. Good work here for proposing a mana-fixing cycle since we always need to get them right as they are the scaffolding for everything else in a multicolor set.
At uncommon, I think I'd charge a little more and have this add mana rather than just color fix. I do like that you get to trade this in for a spell in the late game.
Vengeful Ancestor (mythic rare)
Creature — Spirit
Whenever you activate Vengeful Ancestor's outlast ability, exile target creature with power less than or equal to Vengeful Ancestor's until Vengeful Ancestor leaves the battlefield.
Vengeful Ancestor will take its vengeance before the outlast ability resolves, so that counter won't help exile bigger things. Is that really what you want, or should we let it trigger "when it outlasts" and trigger when the ability's resolving instead?
This is an interesting ability, and appropriate for Abzan, but it has some issues. First of all, the ability should be optional so you don't end up having to exile your own creature. Secondly people will think that because it is going to be a 2-power creature they can exile a 2-power creature. Therefore, this should exile whenever you put a +1/+1 counter on Vengeful Ancestor.
This is a very exciting mythic rare. However, I think this is a mono-white card.
An outlast trigger is a great place to go with this "other" mythic rare. I was expecting to see "Whenever you activate any outlast ability" so it's more Commander-y. Current wording suggest this will be forced to exile itself, so I think it wants to exile creatures an opponent controls. This seems not very fun to play against if it chews up an opposing creature each turn and won't swing until their entire board is empty. I can see how it's trying to be three different colors at the same time.
I had a thought similar to Ken's. I would have triggered off of any outlast ability and made this legendary to make it a build-around card. Also, the exile should be a may to keep you from being forced to exile your own creatures (unless you want to). As to Melissa's color pie issue, three-color design is hard and we allow ourselves to make things that match the overall feel of the clan in three-color, so I think this is okay as a three-color card.
Overall Judge Commentary
This is a very good set of cards. It does a good job of fitting in with Khans of Tarkir. However, it is a little lower on novelty compared with my expectation for the last week of a design challenge; it felt like you were "playing it safe."
I think you had great designs this week, and zero designs that I would consider unsuccessful. There were a few rate issues or rarity issues, but overall, I liked your cards. Your commons were great. Very elegant. I think you had the best commons (a great sign since you all had to design ten of them). My favorite card of yours was Aven Skytracer. It's elegant and a perfect fit for Jeskai. I think one thing you could work on is thinking about Limited more, especially when designing commons. Most of your cards looked like great Limited cards, but you had a few that didn't look fun. Your mana fixer uncommon looked like a fun Limited mana fixer at common.
All in all, you were able to make a couple cards I myself wished I had followed up Khans of Tarkir with in Fate Reforged.
The judges picked yours as the second-best design this week. I think you were both the most structurally solid designer and the least innovative of this challenge. I like how you understood the environment you were building in and made cards that were good fits in color, rarity, and feel. I do though wish you pushed the boundaries a little more in showing us what Khans of Tarkir could have done mechanically.
Jeremy, I agree with Erik that you played it a little safe this week, but then that's what you needed to do to make final three. You've been very consistent this entire competition, so congratulations on making it to Renton.