Great Designer Search 3 Finalist – Linus Ulysses Hamilton

Posted in Feature on March 9, 2018

By Wizards of the Coast

Trial 2

Scored 74/75

Trial 3


Eli Shiffrin

Erik Lauer

Melissa DeTora

Guest judge Ethan Fleischer

Mark Rosewater

Design 1

Mirror Trick (rare)
Return target creature you control to its owner's hand. Create a token that's a copy of it.

This is nice variant of a flicker effect; it comes a cantrip effect, but instead of drawing a random card, you draw another copy of that creature. Generally in design we charge two extra mana for a cantrip, and this is better than a cantrip. Charging less will make some people think something is wrong with the card, and not notice it is just the aggressive costing. To avoid that, I would be less aggressive in costing cards in the future.

I think this is a cool card. It can be swingy, so it being rare is appropriate. I think it is heavily undercosted.

This is a pretty sweet design. Players can save their creatures from removal, create an unexpected blocker, or just inefficiently clone something. Not bad for a card with only seventeen words in its text box!

This was a card the judges had a lot of debate about. This is a combination of effects we haven't seen before, but was it something that had interesting play value? I'm the Johnniest of the judges, so I'm the most interested in effects dipping into untapped design space because I like making cards that dare the players to figure out how best to use them. This design is quirky, but to me, that's a positive.

Design 2

Lorelei, Centaur Leader (mythic rare)
Planeswalker — Lorelei
Whenever a creature you control attacks, put a loyalty counter on CARDNAME.
0: Creatures you control get +1/+1 and gain vigilance until end of turn.
-3: Create a 3/3 green Centaur creature token.
-10: You get an emblem with Creatures you control get +2/+2 and have trample.

This is a nice design, but it has one big problem. It should be on a red-white card and not a green-white one. Green-white is about building up a collection of creatures (sometimes using them defensively) until you acquire a force large enough to win. Red-white, in contrast, is about consistently attacking. This difference can be subtle, and designers do allow for some overlap, but we try to be careful not to create green-white cards that heavily encourage all-out attacking. This is especially true with Constructed cards, as we want a strategically diverse Standard environment and green-white and red-white are similar color pairs. This makes preserving their contrast even more important.

I don't see anything innovative on this planeswalker. Maybe it's the triggered ability, but that type of scaling has already been done with Huatli, Radiant Champion from Rivals of Ixalan. The loyalty abilities are very simple and have been done in similar ways before. I think this accumulates loyalty too quickly to justify its game-winning ultimate. Consider Hualti, who accumulated loyalty just as quickly, but didn't create a game-winning ultimate, instead using one you still had to work for. I think this triggered ability is too strong for what the rest of the planeswalker is doing.

The triggered ability on this planeswalker is pretty alarming, as it would be easy to get within ultimate range in a single turn. The overall package is quite appealing and coherent, using several relatively simple abilities.

Like a lot of designers, you had fun playing with untapped planeswalker design space. I like your static ability and enjoy how it connects to all the loyalty abilities. I have to agree with Erik though that you've designed more of a red-white card. The trick to shift this over is to make the static ability care more about creatures entering the battlefield than attacking, and then making the loyalty abilities all help get creatures onto the battlefield.

Design 3

Feint Strike (uncommon)
CARDNAME deals 1 damage to target creature. Target player sacrifices other target creature.

This is a very nice design and is properly uncommon.

I don't see how this is much different from other two-for-one spells. Is it supposed to be an edict in which they can't sacrifice their small guy? I don't believe so, because you are targeting both creatures here. I think this card is a fine uncommon removal spell, but it's not doing anything special.

The template submitted has an error in it, so the intent is a little unclear. I will assume that the final instance of the word "target" isn't supposed to be there. This is pretty neat. I think it's generally more powerful than a regular edict effect, but isn't as good in the instances where traditional edicts shine (when facing down a single, powerful creature). I think that this design would support a good concept as well.

I feel bad when someone makes a clean, elegant design and we just say good job, because it's one of the hardest things to do well in a design. Adding multicolor to the mix and it becomes even trickier, so good job Linus! For those in the audience, the reason this is uncommon and not common is we try to avoid putting cards that can kill two creatures at common. (Yes, there is the occasional exception.)

Design 4

Alva, Soul Exchanger (mythic rare)
Legendary Creature — Spirit Advisor
Whenever a nontoken creature an opponent controls dies, you may pay {2}. If you do, return that card to the battlefield under that player's control. Then exile another target creature that player controls.

This card has what we call the "Throwing Knife Problem." You choose a target as soon as the ability is put on the stack, just like Throwing Knife's trigger asks, and if that target becomes illegal, you can't pay 2 for Alva or sacrifice Throwing Knife even if you want to. But if you just start reading the card and doing what it says, it misleads you a little. Reflexive trigger technology (like on the Amonkhet card Heart-Piercer Manticore) solves this by forcing the target to happen later, only if the cost is paid:

Whenever a nontoken creature an opponent controls dies, you may pay 2. When you do, return that card to the battlefield under that player's control and exile another target creature that player controls.

This is innovative, and clearly in the color pair. Putting a cost on the ability is excellent, because you have given game balance a knob that you are comfortable with. The only problem is that this seems to require your opponent controls two creatures before the ability does anything at all. I would give this an ability to motivate your opponent to play a second creature, which could be as little as giving this lifelink.

This is weird. So, for two additional mana, my removal spells exile your creature instead of just killing it. I just have to target a different one. This also guarantees that the right thing dies in combat, provided I have the mana. That I like. I think the weirdest thing about this is how it makes me play my removal spells. It is unclear whether this card is fun.

So they get to keep their worst creature? This card is weird, and I'm having trouble intuiting whether it's fun or not. I guess I would give it a try.

This is a novel and flavorful design. I appreciate a lot of the little nuances (the nontoken restriction, the payment, the exiling of the second creature), things that show you spent some time really thinking about how this card will play. I agree with Erik that I would give this creature something to make this creature more of a threat and force the opponent to want to play more creatures so that the fun part of this card is more likely to happen.

Design 5

Ashiok, Dream Collector (mythic rare)
Planeswalker — Ashiok
+2: Each player draws two cards.
-2: Target opponent draws a card, then reveals his or her hand. You may play a card from it without paying its mana cost.
-9: You get an emblem with You may cast nonland cards on the battlefield you don't control.

Casting things off the battlefield is theoretically possible, but it causes no small amount of weirdness. What if the other player want to activate its ability in response? Priority fights aren't fun. What if it's face-down? I can move it to the stack, look at it, and then determine whether or not I can or want to cast it. Perhaps you can get to the same goals by having the emblem let you pay a permanent's mana cost to exile it and cast it for free, or even having it simply gain control of a one by paying its mana cost.

This captures some of what makes Ashiok a successful planeswalker. However, the -2 ability overly punishes your opponent for playing cards with high converted mana costs. The original Ashiok took this into account by charging you loyalty equal to the converted mana cost of the card. It is one thing to not be sure of how a card should be costed, but it is another to have a costing method that was successful, and deliberately depart from it.

I dislike this card for a few reasons. First, I think the second ability is broken. You are getting to play your opponent's best stuff for free. If you are able to activate this twice, then not only is your opponent losing their best cards, but also the potential mana you save will get you so far ahead. I also dislike the ultimate. In theory you will be stealing your opponent's stuff, but in actuality you are forcing your opponent to not play their own stuff because you will just take it, causing them to sit there with a handful of cards and be sad. I think this card looks very unfun, miserable even. I would stay away from repeatable steal, especially at no mana.

I like how the first ability feeds the second ability so well. Very neat. The second ability is going to be very powerful sometimes, and will utterly whiff other times. This isn't a very good sign for a card that will likely be aimed at Constructed. The ultimate is bizarre; casting cards from the battlefield is bound to confuse a lot of players.

I overall like the Ashiok feel. My big complaint is that the first two abilities don't tie into the ultimate. Ashiok manipulates dreams so they're all in the opponent's head and then they're recasting permanents. I like the innovation of the ultimate (that is if it actually works), but I don't think it ties as well with what the rest of the card is trying to do. I would much rather have some innovative, weird new thing you're doing with the opponent's hand as that thematically ties in better mechanically and flavorfully.

Design 6

Red Rover (uncommon)
Your opponents must attack with exactly one creature each combat if able.

Nacatl War-Pride is a source of stress for our combat system, although my instinct is that your card here behaves more nicely by having fewer other cards that interact with it. It's still odd with any "everyone attacks" effects; an answer exists (everyone has to attack anyway), but is it an answer players will get?

This is a very good uncommon. It is straightforward and novel.

We recently did this in Ixalan with Trove of Temptation. I am not sure if this needs to be white, or what is white about this. Nothing new here.

I believe that forcing attacks while restricting attacking options is just the sort of thing that brings digital expressions of Magic to their knees. I'd want to check with R&D digital liaison before putting a card like this into a file. This is potentially Abyss-y (an adjective we use in R&D to describe cards akin to Legend's The Abyss) if you also have a large creature that can block and eat the opponent's creatures. I don't think any good can come of this card.

This is one of those cards that works just fine by itself, but quickly gets confusing when it interacts with other effects. Putting this in a set would require us being careful about what interacts with it in Limited (especially if we print the card at uncommon). While we could do the card at uncommon, my gut is to put it at rare where it will come up less in Limited and be more of a build-around card for (casual) Constructed. I also agree with Melissa that this card could be mono-red.

Design 7

Graveyard Dig (common)
Return up to two target {green or black} creature cards from your graveyard to your hand.
You may cast this spell for 2(b/g)(b/g). If you do, ignore the braced text.

"Change this spell's text by removing 'some words here'" isn't something we've done, but it's pretty reasonable within the rules. However, in this case, my rules manager hat compels me to ask you to consider looking a little less outside the box before committing to something that bold and new on a common, like Welcome to the Fold.

The extra ability is to return creatures that are neither black nor green, but the extra mana in the cost includes extra mana that is black or green. While that is sensible in a game-balance sense, it is not all that intuitive as rules text, so I would not do it at common. My solution, to keep this at common, would be to not have the higher cost option.

I like the idea of bracketed text here a lot. However, if you are charging two extra mana, then the bonus should reflect that. Here, I don't feel rewarded for paying two extra mana for this card. I am probably playing a deck with mostly green and black creatures anyway. I would find a different reward here, or different cost.

This is interesting templating technology. The use of the curly braces to mark the modifiable text is the real sauce here, enabling text-splicing that would otherwise be impossible. Very cool. As a game designer, my first question is, "Is this fun?" But as a member of R&D, my second question would be, "Does this work in every language we publish in?" The design space is small but worth exploring in English, but when we account for other languages' grammatical structures we may find that this design space shrinks to the point of unusability.

I agree many of the other judges that this card doesn't need the last sentence and shouldn't have it if the card is common. On top of that, I think restrictions on cards lead to better gameplay, so I prefer the "green or black" rider not be optional.

Design 8

Borrow (rare)
You may activate an activated ability of target artifact or creature you don't control without paying its costs. (If it has {X} in its cost, X is 0.)

I'm more concerned with all the other costs besides X that can be problematic when you skip them. Costs of "Sacrifice a creature" can do weird things when the effect tracks back to the sacrificed creature—and even weirder things if the effect affects "that card" but that card is still on the battlefield. Will players get that the T cost is waived, so tapped permanents can be re-activated? If my opponent has a planeswalker, I can activate its ultimate ability right away with Liquimetal Coating. I'm confident I can make answers that won't cause the game to collapse into a singularity, but I'm not confident the answers will be user-friendly.

This is a very novel and interesting.

When I see cards like this, what I usually do is ask myself what the most broken thing I can do with it is. Here, I think the most broken thing is to find something with a cheap cost, but an expensive activation and a sacrifice, or maybe a large life payment cost. Overall, I think this card is very dangerous. I think it should cost quite a bit more mana.

Neat! This is a little hard for players who don't understand what an activated ability is, but I think it's fine to occasionally make a rare card that plays in this space. I'm sure the FFL (Future Future League—R&D's testing of the future of Standard) would have to test this a lot, but it has so much intriguing combo potential that I think some players would really get a kick out of it. There's probably some ridiculous combo with Scribe of the Mindful or something.

I'm torn. The player in me thinks this is a cool effect that would lead to a lot of fun moments. The designer in me agrees with Eli that this effect is going to cause some non-intuitive gameplay. If this card were submitted to my set, I would play around with variants to find the sweet spot between cool and understandable.

Design 9

Figure of the Hunt (uncommon)
Creature — Elemental
Whenever CARDNAME becomes blocked, you may reveal any number of land cards from your hand. CARDNAME gets +1/+1 until end of turn for each card revealed this way.

This is a lot of text for an ability that will generally stay silent. The defending player will need to take a large risk (losing a creature, without trading) for a small reward (blocking to save 2 life) and the attacking player would need to have a nearly all-land hand before anything happens for the typical scenario to occur. More frequently, this amounts to a lot of text for an evasive 2/2.

This card looks weak. It's understatted, and it incentivizes you to not play your lands. Your best bet is to hope your opponent blocks so that the lands you kept in your hand can pay off. But it's so small that the opponent can ignore this for a while and build up a board presence, while you can't because you're holding lands. I think giving this menace will help, so when they finally block you can at least get a little value for the tempo loss.

I'm really not a fan of cards that encourage you to hold your lands instead of playing them. This card in particular has so little to offer in exchange for choking yourself on mana.

My rule of thumb for "when blocked" triggers is that the creature needs to encourage blocking it. Usually that's because it's large or it has a saboteur trigger (aka it does something when it hits the opponent). Your card does neither and I agree with Erik it's a lot of text for basically "cannot be blocked." Also, this effect, as written, could be done in mono-green, so I'm not sure what red is adding to the mix.

Design 10

Converging Fog (common)
Enchant creature
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, prevent all combat damage that would be dealt this turn.
Enchanted creature doesn't untap during its controller's untap step.

There are cards that aren't very good, and should be replaced. Then there are cards that risk making Standard less enjoyable, without any comparable upside. This is one of those types of cards. A Constructed deck full of Fogs makes many players very unhappy. They play the game, and their only hope is that their opponent runs out of Fogs. That means Fog is a dangerous effect, especially because the individual cards look innocuous.

This card does not look fun at all. Sometimes your opponent will not get to damage you for a turn, and they will also lose their creature. That is the most fair thing about this card. But if you are playing this card, you probably aren't looking to do anything fair with it. Bouncing and blinking this will create repeatable Fogs and lead to a very unfun game.

I think this has too much lock-out potential with otherwise innocuous cards like Cache Raiders to be worth the risk. You'd be surprised how careful we have to be about Fog effects.

This design is clever and mixes its two colors well. Its only flaw (although a pretty big one) is it leads to unfun gameplay. In general, we don't like to tack other value onto Fog effects as, in number, they get frustrating. Putting creature removal on a Fog effect is therefore something we wouldn't do, especially at common.

Overall Judge Commentary

You have some good designs, but you have a variety of smaller issues. One card has the wrong color strategy, another departs from a known good cost, a third has a bunch of extra text that does not belong on a common, and the last plays in the dangerous space of "a Fog with bonus utility." If you take a little lesson from each one, you will be in better shape. But if you want to improve faster, look at other competitors, and learn from their mistakes too.

You had a few cards that looked promising with some numbers tweaks. The bracketed text looked pretty cool and I think there is a lot of design space there. However, a lot of your designs just did not look fun. When designing cards, think about the play patterns of those cards, or what kind of game state will you get if this card is in play for several turns. What kind of deck does the card enable? Does the card cause the opponent to stop playing their cards or attacking? Does the card create a game state where nothing is progressing, players aren't doing anything, but the game is not close to a conclusion, or is the gameplay repetitive, where one player is doing the same thing turn after turn, no matter what changes?

I'm seeing an encouraging amount of fresh ideas here. I think you have interesting ideas for how to innovate with Magic design. Your instant and sorcery designs are very good. You have come up with some unique one-shot effects that are relatively simple, yet fresh and intriguing. However, I don't think you're putting enough thought into what the likely use-cases are of your permanent cards. Do some playtests. Try to abuse the cards, and see whether they're fun, especially for the opponent.

You had the most innovative design test. Your cards inspired me to think about a lot of new design space. Unfortunately, the innovation was mixed with a lot of sloppy design. You chose the wrong colors or made something that didn't need both colors. You had cards in the wrong rarity. You had cards that didn't quite work the way you wanted in the rules. Your future design challenges are going to need more polish. The other issue for you to work on is that you often mix your innovation with the wrong components. You take something cool but mix it with something else that will keep it from being fun. My advice for this is to take advantage of your playtest partner to make sure your cards play as fun as they read. I see a lot of potential in you. Don't get eliminated because your execution gets in the way of your amazing ideas.

Challenge #1


Eli Shiffrin

Erik Lauer

Melissa DeTora

Guest judge Alexis Janson

Mark Rosewater

Tribal Choice: Aetherborn

Contestant Comments

The Aetherborn are back and ready to rock in a return to Kaladesh. Given their exuberant short lives and emotion-sensing powers, it only makes sense to branch them out into red. Does a tribal theme fit in an artifact set? Yes. Tribal gives you a reason not to put the same strong card in every deck, which is exactly what an artifact set needs to avoid Smuggler's Copter II: Electric Boogaloo.

Aetherborn celebrate their impending deaths with massive parties. For a while I tried to give them a "funeral party" mechanic where when one dies, the rest all celebrate. But it discouraged playtesters from trading in combat, since they wanted to play all their Aetherborn before any of them died to get the most triggers. This gameplay pattern didn't match the passionate Aetherborn lifestyle and wasn't particularly fun.

So I switched gears; when your Aetherborn dies, you should be celebrating! I tried to design cards that put the "fun" in "funeral." In Limited, the Aetherborn Draft strategy is to keep trading in combat, accumulate value through death triggers, and use removal spells on anything too big to trade with. I think the cards ended up in a fun place.

Since some Aetherborn are also Vampires, I made a dual-tribe lord for both. One set won't provide enough good Aetherborn for a full tribal Commander deck (even including the ones from Kaladesh block), but Maratti lets Commander players play Aetherborn tribal anyway.

Design 1

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

This is a good design common design that is useful in any deck but stronger with other Aetherborn.

This is a nice design and a simple common.

My comments for Nutritious Slime (by Christopher Mooney) apply here also. This might be a bit above the curve for black. Given that Aetherborn are not about counters, I had to think a bit to see how this mixed with the rest of your cards, but having done that I think this works quite well, if perhaps a bit subtle at first glance.

As Alexis points out, Chris Mooney designed this exact same card except in green and for Oozes. It turns out those two changes were important. This ability is much more green than black. Green is #1 with +1/+1 counters and white is #2. Black does interact with +1/+1 counters, but more to put them on itself than on others. Also, green gets more creature for 1G than black does for 1B, so a 2/2 in green has more space for the ability (I say 2/2 because you can put the +1/+1 counter on itself). The Aetherborn granting counters as a death trigger makes sense, but is less flavorful as an enters-the-battlefield effect. So, you made a nice clean common design, but it isn't as good a fit for your tribe and colors.

Design 2

Attend Your Own Funeral (common)
Target creature you control gets +1/+0 until end of turn if it's an Aetherborn.
When it dies this turn, return it to the battlefield under your control.

This is another good common design. Also, your commons are the types of cards I would most want to see: a creature and a combat trick.

Nothing really new here, it's Supernatural Stamina with a tribal rider attached. Combat tricks are one of the most fun parts about Limited, and this one is much stronger if you're Aetherborn. I'd look to always grant the +1/+0 and give a keyword (lifelink seems cool) if it's Aetherborn, so it's always strong but you feel rewarded for playing the right tribe.

This is a lot weaker and narrower than Supernatural Stamina. If I'm playing this card, I'm either sad or I've really managed to go deep on creatures I want to cycle in and out of play. The tribal upside feels arbitrary rather than flavorful or in support of your theme. This card is printable, but you only had eight cards and missed an opportunity here.

This is a simple design for common. It requires only one member of the tribe and it has a function even if you don't have an Aetherborn. Where this card falls down for me is flavor. The Aetherborn are defined by their brevity and their connection to death. I like that this grants a death trigger to Aetherborn, I just wish it didn't bring them back to the battlefield, as that feels antithetical to what the Aetherborn are.

Design 3

Party Suit (uncommon)
Artifact — Equipment
Equip 2
Equipped creature gets +2/+1.
When equipped creature dies, if it was an Aetherborn, you may equip CARDNAME to target creature you control.

This partially gets across the short-lived nature of Aetherborn. I think I would use +2/+0 to further get that across.

This card is fine, but not novel. This card is also very strong if you're not Aetherborn, and will not float to the Aetherborn player in Limited. This card doesn't tell the player to pick it and draft Aetherborn. Uncommons are usually the cards that guide the player toward what to draft. When making uncommon tribal cards, it's important to make the player feel rewarded for drafting that tribe. Something like a more expensive equip cost reduced by two if you attach it to an Aetherborn, for example.

Spike Alexis is excited to first-pick this, but Designer Alexis thinks this is net unfun for the game. This is a first pick for almost any Draft deck, so the Aetherborn deck is much less likely to get this. If we assume the costs change to fix that, I'm still not convinced this will be net fun. Playing against this is going to be super frustrating. One way to fight Equipment is to out-tempo your opponent by making them waste mana equipping, and you've made that much harder.

This design, in contrast, does a much better job of feeling like an Aetherborn card. When an Aetherborn dies, it gives its stuff to another Aetherborn. I agree with the other judges that I wish this pushed you a little more to want to play Aetherborn.

Design 4

Aether Reveller (uncommon)
Creature — Aetherborn
Whenever CARDNAME or another Aetherborn you control dies, CARDNAME deals 1 damage to target creature or player.

Wow, this is an appealing powerful design. To emphasize haste, I might make this only apply if the creature dies while attacking.

Probably not appropriate for uncommon, depending on density of Aetherborn. Complex and makes combat difficult. Making it target a player only solves this.

Ah yes, the classic "do the thing and deal extra damage" Draft build-around uncommon. This card is fine, and I'd be happy to first-pick this and go all-in on Aetherborn. It fits your goals, but doesn't really explore any new ideas as an individual card or as part of a larger theme.

I like this design as it starts to tell you what to do with your Aetherborn deck. Being in black and red also makes an attrition strategy with sacrifice outlets very viable. I agree with Melissa that I'd make this just hit players to lessen the board complexity issues.

Design 5

Rockstar Stage (rare)
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, if there is an Aetherborn card in your graveyard, add one mana of any color to your mana pool.
T: Add C to your mana pool.

Lands that generate two mana on an early turn have caused Constructed problems a bit more than they are worth.

I would avoid making double lands (lands that can produce two mana), even for only one turn. Not appropriate for Standard.

This is an interesting line of text, although a land that sometimes bursts your mana would be a red flag for Play Design and I'm not sure there's much upside. Also, it's problematic that it doesn't fix your mana until you've already managed to cast some number of spells. I'd probably play this, but as a rare, I'd hope to see a card that inspired me to build a deck, and the only way this does that is if I'm doing something unhealthy for the game.

A couple of things I would change. One, I'd pick an enters-the-battlefield effect other than mana. As all the other judges pointed out, lands that produce two mana, even if for one turn, have historically been problematic, Two, I'd have it produce the colors of your tribe (black and red) even if it requires having some drawback (enters the battlefield tapped is the most obvious, but it could be a life payment).

Design 6

Last Spark (rare)
Return target artifact or creature card from your graveyard to the battlefield. It gains haste. Sacrifice it at the beginning of the next end step. If it's an Aetherborn, it must be blocked this turn if able.

The idea is interesting. Getting to choose an artifact or creature gives this some Johnny appeal. However, the Aetherborn reward looks too small to me. I could get a Noxious Gearhulk, kill a creature outright, and still attack. To tempt me to possibly use this in a tribal deck, maybe I should be able to reanimate two Aetherborn.

This card is not particularly interesting, and doesn't feel rare. I think a more interesting direction is to make this instant, so there is more flexibility in what you can do with it. Overall, nothing really new here.

The meat of this card is completely derivative. The tribal bonus doesn't seem appropriate at all—forcing blocks is much more something done at common and uncommon to give green (not red) a way to deal with problem creatures.

This card is flavorful and functional. I like that you have the artifact rider because you know we're on Kaladesh. My biggest negative comment is that you didn't need black for this card, it could be mono-red. I also agree with the other judges that you could make the Aetherborn rider a bit more exciting.

Design 7

Everyone Dies Twice (mythic rare)
If an Aetherborn you control dying causes an ability of that card or another artifact or creature you control to trigger, that ability triggers an additional time.

I have significant concerns about this. Panharmonicon works because we only have one real flavor of enters-the-battlefield triggers, but we have a lot of "dies" weirdos. "When you sacrifice," "When this is put into a graveyard from anywhere," "When this exploits a creature," and so on. Death triggers also look back in time in a strange way in the rules; will players understand whether something's own death trigger gets doubled?

Panharmonicon was fun, and I suspect this would be too.

This is a cool design, and feels appropriate for this tribe. This is a narrow build-around card for a rare tribe, which I don't think belongs at mythic rare. It's only for one deck, and will so rarely be played outside of Limited or Standard, unless Aetherborn start showing up on worlds besides Kaladesh. I think this card can do a little more. An activated ability that makes Aetherborn tokens maybe?

Okay, this card gets me excited to build a deck. However, I would hope that if we printed this effect we wouldn't completely restrict it tribally. This is an appropriate and cool card for your themes. I don't think this would be a black card, probably red or artifact.

Worrying about Aetherborn deaths triggering other things might be problematic, but I love the double death triggers vibe. The one thing I would do since this is a mythic rare is double all death triggers and triple Aetherborn death triggers (assuming, of course, Eli could make this work). This way it's still points toward an Aetherborn deck but allows other people to also build around it.

Design 8

Maratti, Vampire Rockstar (mythic rare)
Legendary Creature — Aetherborn Vampire
Other Aetherborn and Vampires you control get +1/+1.
Whenever an Aetherborn or Vampire deals damage to an opponent, put that many +1/+1 counters on CARDNAME.
When CARDNAME dies, it deals damage to any target equal to its power.

Did you mean for this to trigger when one opponent's Vampire deals damage to another opponent? That's pretty unusual, but it's a valid choice. Lots of designers word cards like this, and then it's up to the editors and me to catch it and say "Hey, did you really mean this?"

The death trigger is very exciting. Well done.

Nice mythic rare, looks exciting to build around. It looks like it can get very big very quickly (play this, attack with whatever is already in play, grow this to be too big to deal with?) Looks interesting enough to test. Looks great for Commander.

I appreciate the desire to make this cross-tribe to help get it into more formats and decks given the sparseness of Aetherborn across Magic. The meat of this card doesn't seem to line up with your "dies" theme. This excites me from a power level, but it might just be straight-up insane—if you aren't ready for my attack on turn five, suddenly I have a monster and if you kill it, you die anyway.

Unlike my comments on Jay's Mystic Slime, you've managed to combine two tribes that feel thematically connected. Also, thanks to Innistrad, Vampires exist in black and red, allowing you to overlap the two tribes in the same color combination. I like how this card both helps Aetherborn and Vampires and is helped by them as well. A fun design.

Overall Judge Commentary

Your theme is clear and would work both in Draft and Standard. You have a lot of solid card designs, including commons that do a good job of setting expectations. This is a fruitful set of designs.

I didn't really get the feel of what Aetherborn were doing mechanically and overall there were not many novel designs. When designing tribal, it's important to give players a reason to play that tribe, and I didn't really get a sense of that here. Your theme was dies triggers, which puts a lot of tension on opponents to not attack or block. Designing a card with a sacrifice outlet would have been cool here. I really liked the mythic rare legendary Vampire. It was exciting, splashy, and told me how I'm supposed to build a deck with it.

Mechanically, I was surprised at the lack of sacrifice outlets or other ways to help your Aetherborn die, with only a minor nod on a rare card. Flavorfully, I was hoping for something that captured the "party vibe," but everything here just felt mechanical. You had too many derivative designs for a design test, which isn't helped by your choice of a mechanical theme that we regularly explore. You clearly can design bread-and-butter cards, but you need to make these old ideas feel fresh somehow.

I'll admit I was a bit taken aback when you selected Aetherborn, but the more I thought about it the more excited I was to see what you did with it. The Aetherborn were well received by the audience and have a strong flavor. Perhaps there's real potential to do something cool. I'm sorry to say while you made some good choices (making red the second color, building around death triggers, etc.), you didn't really excel. You basically built a black-red archetype we make all the time: the aggressive red-black deck with death triggers and sacrifice outlets (which by the way, while you implied the deck would have them, I'd liked to have seen some). What could the Aetherborn bring to the table that other past black-red tribes didn't? I'll admit when we let you bring back mechanics, I was convinced you'd bring back vanishing as it seems a perfect fit for the Aetherborn. That's what I was missing. It's a tribe with a built-in death clock. You barely tapped into that. That's my major note for next time. You're making solid designs, but you're not standing out at all. This is the second time in a row you were in the middle of the pack. You have to do something to get yourself noticed. Your design test showed lots of potential. I need to see that before you end up at the bottom and get knocked out.


Linus, you seem to be making a lot of safe choices. I think you're at a spot where safe choices are actually more dangerous than trying something bold.

Challenge #2


Eli Shiffrin

Erik Lauer

Melissa DeTora

Guest judge Aaron Forsythe

Mark Rosewater

Contestant Comments

On Bigtopia's plane, traveling circuses perform together in front of an audience, competing to put on the most impressive, funny, or artistic show. But not all troupes play nice. Recently, one troupe observed that you automatically win if your opponent's performance gets cut short. They began sabotaging opposing troupes and even attacking them. Audiences loved the drama, ticket sales soared, and the Battle Circus was born.

I found this to be quite a big assignment. I felt like I had to plan out the set's themes and mechanics, and test them with playtest decks of commons, before designing the rares and mythic rares. This was a lot more work than designing eight individually fun cards.

Some color themes:

  • Red-Green: Aggro with Crowd's Zeal tokens (If I could have keyworded this, I would have named it "The crowd cheers.")
  • Green-White: Animal riding—going big with pair attacking
  • Blue-Red: Circus stunts—combat tricks
  • Black: "Scary" clowns, disfigured mutants

I like where the submitted designs ended up, but I'm still unsure about the set's mechanical identity for black. Do you have any advice on making a set feel cohesive?

Design 1

Tightrope (common)
Enchantment — Aura
Enchant creature
When enchanted creature becomes untapped, destroy it.

Typically, I would enchant a creature that is already tapped, making this a lot like assassinate with a bit of a memory issue.

I think the flavor and story are good here, but I don't think this card plays very fun. You're very unlikely to play this spell on an opponent's untapped creature, and will sit in your hand most of the time. If you do play it on an untapped creature, the opponent will very rarely want to tap it. It will just sit there as a blocker and the player will feel like their black removal spell didn't do anything. When the time is right and the creature is lethal, the opponent will attack with the creature, putting the caster of the spell in an awkward spot. If they block and trade, their spell did nothing. I think it will work a little better if it gets destroyed when it becomes tapped.

I like this card a lot. Feels flavorful, useful, and common. I suppose it would get played like a slightly delayed Assassinate most of the time, so I'd make sure the set had one or two cheap common tricks that untapped a creature to provide moments of counterplay.

I like the card design (and it's a fine common), but the connection to the flavor is a bit tenuous for me.

Design 2

Stilts (common)
Artifact — Equipment
Equipped creature has reach.
Whenever equipped creature attacks, you may unattach Stilts. If you do, that creature gains flying until end of turn.
Equip 2

This is flavorful, amusing, and I want it to work, but it is not impactful enough, and it is not clear what to do with it. I might add +0/+1, and make it cost one to equip, but I am not sure that is enough, and it is not clear that toughness is something you get from stilts. It needs something that you should design, or possibly enough stats that it should be uncommon.

Appropriate power level and complexity for a common, and reminds me of stilts. Great job.

Stilts as an Equipment that gives reach is a gimme. The second ability doesn't do it for me, though. Is it supposed to represent the creature falling? Walking over someone? If it's the latter, then why does he lose the stilts? And a card that gives a creature reach and flying is just weird.

This card is the opposite from the last one for me; I like the flavor connection but don't think the gameplay would be particularly fun.

Design 3

Fire Eating (uncommon)
CARDNAME deals 1 damage to target creature. If that creature would deal damage this turn, instead it deals double that much damage.
Create a red enchantment token named Crowd's Zeal with "Sacrifice this: Target creature gets +1/+1 until end of turn. Sacrifice this only as a sorcery."

This is too complicated, and too much of a one-turn kill card. The card is more appropriate without the token.

Not sure if this works as an entire mechanic. Even though it's sorcery speed, it's still hard to process if there's many of these in play. Opponents will have to consider how much on-board damage you have when thinking about what to attack with etc. I wouldn't have these in large quantities. These abilities feel disconnected. It's a combat trick, or will play out as one most of the time, but you can only sacrifice the token as a sorcery. This looks similar to double strike combat tricks that usually end games. It's weird to see one of these that also creates something that you can't use until next turn. It would make more sense on a sorcery or a creature as an "enters-the-battlefield" effect.

This is a very fiddly card. It probably can add up to some impressive turns sometimes, but it is a lot of words and a lot of work to get there. I appreciate the desire to capture the rising energy of the crowd with the Crowd's Zeal token, but there has to be a more elegant solution than this.

I like a lot of the components, but it doesn't hold together as a card for me. In particular, I'd drop the whole token-making part. It seems busy without enough gameplay value to be worth it.

Design 4

Trained Elephant (uncommon)
Creature — Elephant
You may have CARDNAME attack in a pair with another creature you control. When you do, both creatures gain lifelink and trample until end of turn.

Oh no you re-created banding! Run for the hills! This is an intriguing example of dovetailing something new with an existing mechanic. This really should be a new keyword, though then you couldn't use it in this challenge—does that mean you should have held it off for a later challenge? You definitely want rules on the back end outside of the card text to handle how this works with soulbond, and to move the timing of the choices off of banding. For example:

Swing together (At beginning of your combat, if this creature is unpaired, you may pair it with an unpaired creature until end of combat.)

Swing together (When this creature attacks, if it's unpaired, you may pair it with an unpaired attacking creature until end of combat.)

This is a nice design. It feels very green-white.

Looks like a more flexible version of soulbond that is easier to grok and has fewer triggers. Good execution of this. It also reminds me of a trained elephant both flavorfully and mechanically. Looks like a very strong card, but a bit too high-variance in Limited. The life swings can get crazy with this, especially if you get a few attacks out of it. I would remove lifelink here, or instead do it something like "As long as CARDNAME is attacking with at least one other creature, it gains trample and lifelink until end of turn. Gaining 7 life every turn doesn't sound fun in Limited.

"Attack in a pair" intrigues me. It isn't clear from the template how that works, but I'm imagining it as some combination of soulbond and the archaic banding keyword. I'm all for redemption projects, and if this is a way to make banding into something that reads and plays well, I'm game. Obviously, there's still work to be done on this card, but I like the direction.

This design is cute. You made the conscious choice to imply a handler without limiting the other creature. It does allow two Trained Elephants to train one another, but I think the audience would enjoy that (much as we let one crewed Vehicle crew another). I agree with Eli that you've made something that needs more support than the words you used.

Design 5

Lion Tamer (rare)
Creature — Human
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, create a 5/5 white Cat creature token.
You may have CARDNAME attack in a pair with another creature you control. When you do, both creatures gain first strike until end of turn.

There is something here to work with, but 5/5 doesn't seem right to me. I would rather give the Cat a lower toughness, so it is more sensible to risk my 2/2 to give the Cat first strike.

Again, I like the execution of soulbond here. Flavor makes sense. As a rare, this card doesn't wow me, and feels like any other high-rate card that is all about stats. This is a Limited first-pick based on its 7 power and toughness for five mana. The card doesn't need much else to be a strong card. I think you could have been more creative here.

The biggest Blade Splicer. My first expectation for Lion Tamer would be that it would have some kind of Cat-tribal ability, but as I said above, I'm intrigued enough by "attack in a pair" that I'd be happy to try this card as-is.

A 5/5 Cat seems a bit big given where we've positioned lions before. I do like that you've created a mechanical theme that you've woven through two cards. It helps make the set feel more cohesive.

Design 6

Acrobatics (rare)
Exchange control of two target creatures. Also exchange their positions in combat. (For example, if one of the targets was attacking and blocked by another creature, the other target becomes attacking and becomes blocked by that creature.)

After I had read three common "Acrobatics" from other designers, Melissa asked me about yours without mentioning the rarity and I was very, very confused how this could possibly be common. Rare is a much more reasonable rarity, yes. You need to account for a lot of different things in here: What if one can't legally block or be blocked by something the other was blocking or blocked by? What if the two creatures are controlled by the same player? What is the attacking creature attacking? What if one isn't in combat and has first strike, but first strike damage has already been dealt? I'm confident I can make all these pieces work, but the words to do so are likely going to fit poorly in that text box unless it's a Clown Car.

The novelty here is in the "we avoid doing this due to confusion" space. I like the exchange, but I think you need different flavorful text to complement the card.

I'm not sure how this would work in the rules with regard to when it creates illegal blocks, but the idea is interesting.

Now we've crossed into too weird. I think the questions and headaches this card would cause in a purely theoretical sense would vastly outweigh any cool gameplay opportunities it might create. I can also imagine our digital partners having aneurisms over this card. The flavor is also a little loose here, and definitely not good enough to make this worth all the effort. This card is probably a web comic.

The card has some rules issues (see Eli's comment above), but my biggest problem is I don't see the flavor connection between the mechanics and the flavor. I understand that two acrobats could physically change position with one another; that's a far cry from your creature coming to work for me and my creature working for you. It's one step too far and it makes the top-down design feel less connected.

Design 7

Marvola, Circus Magician (mythic rare)
Legendary Creature — Human Wizard
Whenever CARDNAME attacks, you may exile the top three cards of your library face down. You may look at those cards. Until end of turn, you may cast them.
Whenever you cast an instant or sorcery spell that targets a creature you control, draw a card.

The first ability is cool. Since it gives repeated card advantage, the second ability should not.

I think the idea is cool, but this creature is drawing way too many cards. It has two card-draw abilities, and both are easy to do and have very little cost. I think the attack trigger is repetitive. If you survive the attack and are able to attack again, you have gained too many cards for this creature's rate. I like the heroic trigger. That is a great—and more appropriate—way to draw cards given this creature's rate. It also requires creative deck building. Overall, I think this creature's power level is of mythic rarity, but it's not exciting or splashy, and has too strong of a rate.

The text on this card is actually pretty cool, but I would never arrive at "circus magician" as what it was trying to evoke.

This design feels like it has a lot of potential that it didn't quite live up to. It's not that I can't see the magician if I squint, it's just that I want it to be splashier, especially for a mythic rare. My biggest critique is the addition of haste. It's not a great flavor fit and it's not a card mechanically that wants to attack (because it loses the card drawing bonus if it dies).

Design 8

Marnaby, Ringmaster (mythic rare)
Planeswalker — Marnaby
+2: Untap all creatures you control. Put a +1/+1 counter on each creature you control.
0: Search your library for a creature card. Remove loyalty counters from CARDNAME equal to that card's converted mana cost. If you do, put that card onto the battlefield. Shuffle your library.
-10: You get an emblem with "At the beginning of your end step, search your library for a creature card and put it onto the battlefield. Then shuffle your library."

I appreciate your trick on the 0 ability to get around players having to memorize their deck to use it effectively. However, I must note that it still reads really, really strangely. Let's brainstorm alternatives—this also has some issues, but something in the direction of:

[0]: Search your library for a creature card with converted mana cost less than or equal to the number of loyalty counters on Marnaby. Put it onto the battlefield, then remove loyalty counters from Marnaby equal to that card's converted mana cost. Shuffle your library.

(For those who didn't notice the problem that's being dodged here, the issue with [-X] is that you'd need to decide in advance what converted mana cost you'd search for. This requires you to know off the top of your head which creatures you might want, and if you remember a mana cost incorrectly, you're out of luck.)

This is interesting, but needs some work. In the +2 ability, the player will want to attack after giving the creatures +1/+1. To facilitate that, I would give the creatures vigilance, instead of untapping them,

The second ability is quite interesting, and means that you were correct to start this with less loyalty than its converted mana cost. To make sure this gets initial playtester feedback, I would start at five mana, four loyalty, and the ultimate would cost -9.

I'm not a fan of repeatable searching on permanents. It will lead to repetitive play patterns. The play pattern here is not interesting—you will just plus it and then start tutoring—and there is not much choice. You will usually be getting the same creature every game. Secretly, this card is a six-mana tutor for any 5 CMC creature. I feel like in competitive play, this planewalker's main play pattern will be immediately searching for a four-drop and keeping this around, or using this as a tutor. My advice for making planeswalkers is that every choice should matter. For example, if you find yourself plussing it every turn and have no interest in using the minus, the plus is probably wrong, etc.

This guy I like. I can easily see this as a ringmaster. The middle ability is worded cleverly so that I can search up anything but only put it onto the battlefield if I can "afford" it, and I appreciate that nuance a lot. (That said, I'm not quite sure it works, and I'm really not sure everyone would parse it correctly, but we might be able to get there.) The last two abilities are similar, but that doesn't bother me. He does what he does.

I like the flavor of this card, but I agree the mechanics need a little tweaking. I would look at the top N cards of your library for the second and third ability to deal with repetition issues.

Overall Judge Commentary

I see improvement in your designs, but you are improving slowly. My advice to you is to spend more time thinking through what someone trying to win the game will do with your card. I think you spend too much time imagining them doing what you want them to do, rather than what the card is telling them to do if they want to win.

Miscosting cards is okay if the design is great. Play designers will take your design and adjust the rates if they are off. That said, there were some of your cards that had too strong a rate. If we adjust that, for example we add a mana to the magician, suddenly the card does not look exciting and like a lame mythic rare. When you're costing your card, ask yourself if the card still looks cool if a mana was added to it. If it still looks like an exciting card, then your design is good. If it looks lame, then it's possible that you have made a rate monster and need to rethink about your design.

I found half of your cards to be things I'm intrigued by, which puts you in the top half of contestants for me. (Sadly, others didn't really feel the same way.) The "Battle Circus" vibe is a cool angle that could really help color a lot of design and creative choices. We'd have to find a better way to execute on the Crowd's Zeal, and the banding variant needs a lot of attention, but these are the kinds of problems design teams should be happy to solve. Overall, good work.

I found your submission to be a bit lackluster this week. The flavor was often off, and your designs tended to be a little clunky. My sense is that top-down was more of a stretch for you than other types of Magic design. My favorite part was your theme of things attacking together, but even that was hand waved as being way less wordy than it needed to be. I also liked that your design gave a sense of the larger feel you were trying to create for the world. One trick you might want to try is to show your playtesters cards without any names and see what they think it is. I believe you're making assumptions on how players will read some of your mechanics.


Linus, I'm sorry to say this is the end of the line for you. I think you're a good designer with a lot of promise. You just were outpaced by other designers who did a little bit better. Please keep at it, though. I see great potential in you and am eager to see what you're able to accomplish.

Challenge #3

Linus was eliminated prior to this challenge.

Challenge #4

Linus was eliminated prior to this challenge.

Challenge #5

Linus was eliminated prior to this challenge.

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