Great Designer Search 3 Finalist – Scott Wilson

Posted in Feature on March 9, 2018

By Wizards of the Coast

Trial 2

Scored 75/75

Trial 3

Judges

Eli Shiffrin

Erik Lauer

Melissa DeTora

Guest judge Ethan Fleischer

Mark Rosewater

Design 1

Easily Excitea-Bull (rare)
2RW
Creature — Beast
2/2
Haste, lifelink
Whenever a player's life total changes, put a +1/+1 counter on CARDNAME.

Will players easily understand how many times this ability triggers if two attacking creatures with lifelink deal damage? If a player is dealt 2 damage at the same time their own source with lifelink deals 2 damage? Will there be a consensus on what the answer is and/or should be? Those don't kill the card, but they're red flags.

This is very appealing. It works on its own and motivates people to build a deck.

I think this card is cool, looks fun, and requires build-around to reach is fullest potential. I do think this card is very swingy. I think it is too strong with lifelink. This means that even if it does not hit the player, it still gets a counter. This makes the card very snowbally. I definitely like the idea, but I would look for ways to make it less snowball-y.

Ha! That's a new line of text! I like how the lifelink means that if you hit your opponent with it, you get two triggers. This card might be strong enough even without the haste.

I'm a fan of this card. To deal with some of Eli's issues, I'd contemplate making the card a little more expensive, moving it up to mythic rare, and granting a +1/+1 counter per life gained as that's clearer how many counters you get.

Design 2

Trash Recycler (rare)
BG
Creature -— Human Insect
1/3
Whenever an opponent discards a card, exile that card.
You may play cards exiled with CARDNAME.
T: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool.

Excellent. It takes the discard of black, the mana production of green, and makes a very interesting design.

There are a lot of things I like about this. I like the deck-building challenge it provides. I like that it adds mana of any color to work with itself. That said, it is a very strong mana dork. I think overall it does a bit too much for two mana. I would not make a mana dork that can also steal the opponent's cards. I would cost this a little more. I don't think it's fun when it gets online this quickly.

The mana ability seems a bit extraneous to the design. I get that it helps fix your mana if your opponent is playing different colors than you, but I can't help but think that something more like Daxos of Meletis's ability might work better here. That probably moves this into a different color combination, though there are precedents in multiple other colors.

I enjoy when a multicolor card encourages you to add a new color to an old archetype, in this case adding green to a discard deck. The synergy between abilities is impressive. Good work.

Design 3

Oasis Mirage (mythic rare)
4GU
Legendary Enchantment
You may have lands you play enter the battlefield as a copy of any permanent on the battlefield.

Caring about lands that you play entering the battlefield rather than lands you control entering the battlefield is an unusual hair to split. Be very careful if you want to lean on that distinction.

Wow, what a crazy ability! This is terrific.

This looks broken to me. Once this resolves, all your ramp spells become the best thing in play. Explosive Vegetation, get you and your opponent's biggest, baddest creatures or planeswalker sounds way too strong to me. But the scariest thing about this is that lands are uncounterable and can't be responded to. There is no opportunity for counterplay once this resolves. This card is very difficult to play against.

This will function much like Spitting Image, except you don't get a clone up front and you can copy any permanent, not just creatures. I'd want to playtest with this to see how confusing it is to have lands that are copies of things rather than tokens that are copies of things.

This is a great mythic rare design. It's unique and it makes players try to figure out how to best use it.

Design 4

Blessed Fists (common)
GW
Sorcery
Target creature you control gains lifelink until end of turn. It fights target creature an opponent controls.

This is a fine, simple common. It needs you to control a creature, but is in the color pair that is most likely to control a creature.

Simple white keyword on a green fight card. There is nothing special going on here.

This is a very appealing design, combining two standard Magic abilities in a way we haven't done before. I can't wait to cast this, kill my opponent's only blocker, and then attack.

This is a nice, clean common design. I like it.

Design 5

Tomarin Blair, Lord of Time (mythic rare)
2WU
Planeswalker — Tomarin
4
+1: After this main phase, there is an additional upkeep step, followed by an additional main phase.
-3: Target opponent skips his or her next combat phase.
-8: Create a colorless Paradox artifact token with T, Sacrifice this artifact: End the turn.

An upkeep step that isn't contained by any phase raises the little red flags. I suspect it'd be fine, but I wonder if there's not a better way to simply force upkeep triggers to trigger.

This is coherent and novel, but I don't know that it is fun to play. I am worried that the -3 is going to lead to a deck that Fogs every turn.

This is a cool package, and interesting abilities. I dislike the opponent skipping their combat step. That pretty much guarantees that your planeswalker sticks around for another turn. That sounds more frustrating than fun, even though -3 is an appropriate cost for that effect. I definitely think the rest of the card is interesting and looks exciting to build around.

The plus ability here is extremely narrow in application, only really doing anything with cards that trigger during your upkeep or at the beginning of your main phase. This is more narrow than I would want to put on a planeswalker. I'm generally not in favor of shining a spotlight onto the increasingly irrelevant upkeep step. The minus ability is brutal, but maybe okay as a -3. The ultimate isn't the kind of thing we generally want on an ultimate ability. It is unlikely to help bring the game to a close, unless you're already in a position to win soon anyway.

I'm in agreement with Erik on this card. It's an interestingly crafted card dripping with flavor that's probably going to be miserable to play against. I'd rather this card add phases than take them away.

Design 6

Come at Me Bros (uncommon)
2RG
Instant
Creatures target opponent controls attack this turn if able.
Untap target creature you control. It can block any number of creatures this turn.

This is very nice. While it feels more red-green than green-blue, I suspect a typical set lead would move the card to green-blue; that color pair needs innovative ways of interacting with opponent's creatures.

I really dislike this because it causes huge feel-bad moments for the opponent when they plan out their turn without attacking, tap out, then pass the turn. "Go, you say? Actually hold on, before your combat step, I cast this." According to the rules you must go back to combat, and the opponent must attack you. This card is a huge blowout. A solution to this is to make it a sorcery and say that the opponent must attack during their next turn. That will give the opponent time to plan. Overall I would avoid cards like this.

This looks pretty solid. It's kind of like a fight card, but has a sufficiently different function to justify itself.

One of the challenges of making Magic cards is finding ways to mix and match old things in a way that feels new. This card does that well. It's part Fog, part Panic. I've seen all the pieces but never in this combination. Good job.

Design 7

Elixa DuMort, Dragonstitcher (mythic rare)
3BR
Planeswalker — Elixa
3
+1: Target player discards a card. If you discard a card this way, draw a card.
-2: Exile target creature card from a graveyard. Create a 4/4 black and red Zombie Dragon creature token with flying.
-6: Exile target creature. Create a 10/10 black and red Zombie Dragon Horror creature token with flying, indestructible, and haste.

I triumphantly use Elixa's last ability and you give your creature hexproof in response. I get no awesome Zombie Dragon. "Fizzling" is always a risk, but the greater the investment you put in, the more likely we want a rules or templating trick to avoid it. Contrast the overall multiple-turn investment for Elixa versus your blue/red design's cost of just paying some mana. We've got just the trick to get around that: "Target player creates . . ." Now if the creature's an illegal target, you still are a legal target, so the ability resolves and you get your token.

The +1 ability is a very creative mixture of black and red, and ties in well with the second. Since Elixa already creates 4/4 flying creatures, I think the ultimate should be in a different space.

This is a cool planeswalker, and a nice package. The plus is very cool; you can use it to improve your hand or whittle down the opponent's hand, which gives it great flexibility. It also gives you fuel for the second and third abilities. I think the third ability might be a bit too much of a beating. Ultimates should win the game, but I think this can be a -7. I also dislike that it requires a creature in play. You should be able to ultimate this with nothing on the board, so I would add "up to one" right before "exile target creature."

Not bad! The first two abilities synergize nicely. The ultimate is something you'll pretty much always want to activate unless the battlefield is empty, and you can just use one of the other abilities if that's the case.

I agree with Erik that the ultimate doesn't live up to the promise of the earlier parts of the card. This card is making me fill up my graveyard and then paying me off for doing that. I feel like the ultimate should also involve the graveyard in some way.

Design 8

Draft Chaff Blast (rare)
XUR
Sorcery
CARDNAME deals X damage to target creature or player. You may choose an artifact, instant, or sorcery card with converted mana cost X or less you own from outside the game, reveal that card, and put it into your hand.

This is a great combination of abilities; the combination of pressure to use the removal card on a creature now with the restriction on the tutor is excellent. However, when I think about casting this, and finding a good two-mana card when I intended to find a five-mana combo piece, I think I will frequently get another copy of this card. Chaining these together isn't very dynamic, so I would change the design in a way to exclude getting more copies of this.

This card is cool! Sometimes it kills a creature, sometimes you can find something in your sideboard, but most of the time you're going to be doing both. Since you're not losing a card when you cast this, and gaining not just any card, but a card you want, this card is miscosted. I would add a U to the cost here, since I believe the stronger part of the card is the flexibility of the wish, and the reason to put this card in your deck.

This is a weird combination of abilities. A Blaze is usually either used in an emergency to kill a creature, in which case the wish effect is fine, if a bit of a non sequitur, or it's used to finish of an opponent in the late game, in which case the wish is superfluous.

I'm enjoying you smashing together things I've never seen smashed together before. A Fireball combined with a Wish is a pretty novel Magic card. The designer in me questions whether the card reads cleaner as just wishing for an instant or sorcery. Not because the colors can't wish for an artifact (blue can), but it seems disconnected from the other two. This might get solved with the right creative treatment.

Design 9

Blood Requirement (common)
1UB
Instant
Counter target spell unless its controller sacrifices a creature.

At first glance this is a reasonable combination of blue and black text, with a "cruel choice" that feels appropriate for the color pair. However, this is clearly your weakest design. It is a development trap. It is too weak, and people may try to tweak it. But really there isn't a satisfying tweak, since it is a downside Cancel. Think about how you would play this in a competitive sense (if it cost two mana). Your goal may be to cast this as a two-mana counterspell when your opponent doesn't control any creatures. That play pattern isn't about a cruel choice, it is about death and destruction. The problem is the text doesn't guarantee a choice, and the stronger play is to not give one. An appropriate solution is to guarantee a choice by targeting both the spell and the creature. In terms of design, most of the effort is in fixing the card. A set design team might be better off starting with a blue-black hole than this card. That is why this is a development trap.

Punisher cards are not new, and we've done them sporadically at common (Blazing Salvo, Perplex). I'm not a huge fan of punisher cards at common. You're going to get the worst-case scenario, and depending on what that is, it could drastically change the outcome of a game. This card looks weaker than Cancel and weaker than Diabolic Edict. Since you're getting the one you want the least when you cast this, this card looks unappealing. Players will feel silly when their opponent has a board full of Saprolings and casts their game-winning spell; those players will wish they just played Cancel.

This card is un-costable. At its current converted mana cost of 3, it is strictly worse than Cancel on two axes. At CMC 2, it becomes too strong in the early game. I would knock it down to two mana and make it target a creature with the same controller as the spell. That way it's not just Counterspell in the early game.

This is one of those designs that we've tried over the years and never printed because there isn't the right mix of elements to make it work. I like the attempt to tie a black downside effect to a counterspell, but as Erik said, it's just not a design that ends up satisfying the type of player it's aimed at.

Design 10

Poisonous Prison (uncommon)
2WB
Enchantment
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, exile target nonland permanent an opponent controls until CARDNAME leaves the battlefield.
When CARDNAME leaves the battlefield, each opponent loses 4 life.

This is a good twist on an uncommon mono-white card, in a direction that can't be just white, and is clearly white-black.

This card creates a fun amount of tension in that there is a real cost to removing it. This looks like a strong and fun removal spell for Limited. Each opponent losing 4 is interesting in multiplayer. I can see players fighting to keep this around if they are low on life.

It's a white card attached to a totally unrelated black effect.

This is a neat twist on a traditionally white effect. Like Melissa, I like the idea that there is a cost to get your creature back.

Overall Judge Commentary

Your collection of card designs is very appealing. The cards I would change tend to have issues when I ask, "What would be a strong way of using this card?" and don't get satisfying answers. Tomarin leads to a deck that Fogs every turn, Draft Chaff leads to a chain of Draft Chaffs, and (at two mana) Blood Requirement leads to "I already killed all your creatures."

Your designs were a bit all over the place for me. Some of them I thought were very cool and innovative. Some were broken things we would never print, and both of the commons were misses for me. My best advice for you based on what you submitted is consider how a card will play out rather than what it does in a vacuum. Imagine a Limited game and think of the worst-case scenario in which this card dominates. Or, think about what kind of deck your card will enable, and does that seem fun for the opponent. Avoid cards that lead to repetitive play patterns or that could make the opponent feel frustrated or hopeless. Overall, I liked many of your designs. Some of your executions lead to cards that looked unfun or even miserable.

You have some very solid card designs mixed in with some cards with two abilities that don't make much sense together. I almost just want to say, "Keep making these good cards, and stop making these bad ones." In general, a card should do one thing and do it well. If your card has two abilities, they should make sense together, both in a mechanical sense and from a strategic perspective.

Most of your cards are pretty Melvin-y, which makes sense if you're trying to make a bunch of multicolored cards. Let's see you stretch your Vorthos muscles a bit in the next show. Make more flavorful and resonant cards.

You have numerous designs that show me glimpses of a truly great designer. You have interesting ideas and a good general understating of Magic design. The two problems I see are as follows: One, you have what I call a faulty filter. You're not good at recognizing which are your strong ideas and which ones are the weaker ones. It leads to some uneven cards as you take a great idea and blend it with a merely okay idea. The solution to this is to try making several versions of each design. Don't stop at your first execution, make several iterations. Then once you've made various versions, take a critical eye to look back and see what's working (and obviously playtest the different versions). My gut is you're going to find your best executions take numerous iterations. Two, I agree with Ethan that you need to stretch your Vorthos muscles. Your design is very technical and tends to structurally be sound, but they don't have as much of a visceral feel as some of your competitors' cards. I would work to weave some more flavor into your designs. You have a lot of wonderful components. I want to see you get better at stitching them together to make something truly memorable.

Challenge #1

Judges

Eli Shiffrin

Erik Lauer

Melissa DeTora

Guest judge Alexis Janson

Mark Rosewater

Tribal Choice: Samurai

Contestant Comments

To design Samurai cards (in white, black, and red . . . Sorry, Isao), I had to find their mechanical and thematic hearts. What sets Samurai apart from similar tribes, like Warriors?

Mechanically, Warriors care about attacking—but Samurai care about attacking and blocking, due to their bushido mechanic. I expressed this with cards granting vigilance, triggering on attacking and blocking, or triggering during each player's combat. Since each Samurai has bushido, unfortunately an often-ignorable mechanic, I gave bushido more relevance with Sacred Temple Grounds and Umezawa (his three modes a nod to Umezawa's Jitte).

Thematically, Samurai have a sense of honor; they don't care so much about hitting the opponent or using kill spells, they want to engage in combat and die honorably by the sword. I expressed this in cards that benefit honorable fights/deaths like Love of the Fight and Ritualistic Disembowelment. They also have a sense of brotherhood. I expressed this with cards giving two Samurai a bonus, or one giving it to another.

The judges challenged me to make flavorful designs, so I set forth to do that throughout. For Shichiro, I wanted to explore more tribal planeswalker space, having an "ultimate" that is faster in a Samurai deck but achievable anywhere. As a Samurai himself, Shichiro attacks, blocks, and isn't afraid to die—unlike attacking-only indestructible Gideon. Samurai feel like the only tribe that could have loyalty counters on a creature, and tying them to bushido was too flavorful to pass up.

Now let's go swing some katanas!

Lots of design issues and editor stress with Scott's cards, but no rules issues.

Design 1

Chrysanthemum Crest (common)
W
Enchantment — Aura
Enchant creature
Enchanted creature gets +1/+1 and has vigilance.
When Chrysanthemum Crest enters the battlefield, Samurai you control gain vigilance until end of turn.

This is a good mixture of a common Aura with a tribal bonus. However, consider a situation where you control two creatures and one is an Samurai. The reward motivates you to enchant the other creature. A common Aura should motivate the intuitive play of enchanting the Samurai, so the reward should be to give your other creatures vigilance when you enchant a Samurai.

This is a weak common that will not incentivize me to draft Samurai. Auras are generally weak, so if you want to design a tribal Aura, I would make the tribal reward more relevant.

Samurai Cartouche? I need my Auras to either make up for the card disadvantage or be powerful, so this wouldn't excite me. I see how this fits in with your themes mechanically, so I'd be looking to iterate on this a little more to find the right sweet spot.

This design is appropriately common, but a bit on the bland side. I would have probably given all Samurai +1/+1 as well as granting them vigilance to tie the effect closer to the Aura and give it a little more gameplay. I agree with Erik that I would have this just work on your combat.

Design 2

Ritualistic Disembowelment (common)
2B
Instant
As an additional cost to cast Ritualistic Disembowelment, sacrifice a creature.
Draw two cards. If the sacrificed creature was a Samurai, each opponent loses life equal to its power.

This is a strange common for the Samurai deck, since it gives the expectation that you want to sacrifice some of your Samurai. I would expect a sorcery that has you draw two cards, then lose 2 life unless you control a Samurai.

Looks like a cool card that is fine for Limited, feels common, and makes me want to pump my Samurai and get them into combat.

This is so much better than Fling in the right deck, I'd be really excited to try and draft around this. Not sure the flavor is right. I'd expect it to be a sorcery, and how does an honor suicide hit the opponent? That said, this is a sweet way to combine effects we haven't seen before. I'd expect to see this bumped to uncommon.

This design is a bit more flavorful. My only question is elsewhere you tie scalable effects to the bushido level of Samurai (implying that you expect to give all Samurai bushido). Why is this card's effect based on power rather than bushido, given all your other designs?

Design 3

Brother in Battle (uncommon)
RW
Creature — Human Samurai
2/1
Bushido 1
Whenever Brother in Battle attacks or blocks, put a +1/+1 counter on another target attacking or blocking Samurai you control.

Very nice.

I dislike putting +1/+1 counters in a tribe with a combat mechanic already. Additionally, this text on a two-mana creature can lead to snowbally games. A two-mana 2/1 with bushido 1 is a strong and appealing rate, but I would look for another tribal reward.

That's a saucy reward. Gold uncommons that strongly lead you in a direction have become a staple in our set design, and this fills that role well. My only concern is that this is disconnected from bushido in two somewhat subtle ways (trigger condition is slightly different and the reward is permanent versus temporary), so you're tempting confusion and using up brain space here.

Bushido is a mechanic all about improving creatures in combat, I'm not sure having other effects that boost them even more is something I would focus so heavily on. Also, this card requires you having multiple Samurai, both of which are attacking or blocking, making this something that won't trigger a lot except in a dedicated Samurai deck. Commons and uncommons should have a role in Limited that gets better if you're playing members of the tribe.

Design 4

Love of the Fight (uncommon)
1R
Sorcery
Up to two target creatures must be blocked this turn if able. Each Samurai targeted this way gets +1/+0 and gains first strike until end of turn.

This allows you to enjoy your Bushido effects, which is good, but it does not promote a game of interesting choices. I would prefer a sorcery that strongly motivates the opponent to block.

I dislike the two-mana double removal spell, as it can lead to frustrating blowouts. I think giving first strike to Samurai is interesting with bushido (they are likely blocking with larger creatures). I would put a combat trick here, not a sorcery.

There's a pretty big swing in this card, and it's probably going to make it around the table to the Samurai player who will enjoy wrecking their opponent. My biggest problem is that (other than the first strike) this is a green card. Red has lots of ways to kill creatures, so killing creatures via other creatures is generally reserved for green. This might be an acceptable bend, given your theme, but there's other ways to accomplish your goals that feel more red.

I like forced blocking to trigger the bushido. I would probably just grant the first strike to make the math easier, as bushido is already going to change numbers.

Design 5

Yamazaki Memorial (rare)
4
Legendary Artifact
At the beginning of each combat, if you control two or more Samurai, two target Samurai you control each get +2/+2 and gain haste until end of turn.

I control two Samurai, and they get haste and +2/+2, but maybe I leave one back to get +2+2 on your turn? This is a little strange to me. I would either also give them vigilance, or only have this trigger on your turn.

Not novel or exciting, and doesn't make me want to build a Samurai deck.

I can't remember the last time we printed a card that was a complete blank unless you had at least two cards in a given tribe. This reward is saucy enough to inspire me to try and build this deck, and it sounds like a unique experience.

So much power/toughness pumping. I wish you'd find some other ways to enhance Samurai. I did like the nod on this card toward having two Samurai (a tip of the hat to the Champions of Kamigawa's Brothers Yamazaki).

Design 6

Sacred Temple Grounds (rare)
Land
Sacred Temple Grounds enters the battlefield tapped.
T: Add R, W, or B to your mana pool.
1, T: Target Samurai gets +1/+1 until end of turn for each point of bushido it has.

That is a tremendously strong bonus to put on the already Constructed tri-land. You shouldn't be surprised if it is appropriate to have some sort of drawback, so why not design one?

I don't think this is rare, maybe uncommon. I would look for a different reward. When they already have bushido, they shouldn't also be getting stat bonuses.

I like that this is not a generic set of words we can do for any random tribe. However, the opportunity cost for playing this is tiny, even in a deck with only a handful of Samurai. Then, you get an on-board trick that complicates an already math-heavy board. Bushido takes a non-trivial amount of brain space to keep straight when considering combat math. This is forgivable for a rare, but is adding up throughout your cards.

Caring about the bushido count is a different way to care about bushido, and I like the sideways design approach to the mechanic. Like Melissa, I'd be happier if you used it to affect something other than the power and toughness of Samurai.

Design 7

Umezawa, Samurai Savior (mythic rare)
5RWB
Legendary Creature — Human Samurai
3/3
Bushido 3
Whenever a Samurai you control attacks or blocks, choose one—
• You gain 2 life for each point of bushido it has.
• It deals 1 damage to target creature or player for each point of bushido it has.
• You lose 1 life and draw 1 card for each point of bushido it has.

I love the callback to the famous Equipment. Also, that you tied in the three abilities of the Equipment to the three colors of your legend (though I would put the abilities in the same color order as the casting cost). At first glance, this should trigger on combat damage to match the Equipment. But, with consideration to play, it should trigger upon Samurai you control dealing combat damage to a player. That would give your opponent motivation to block some of your Samurai, and would allow this to be at a much lower casting cost. I would also lower the bushido to 2, to match the Equipment. Overall, this is a very fruitful design.

This is very expensive for its size. It's exciting and novel and has the right amount of complexity for mythic rare. I think doing noncombat things with bushido is super interesting, and I think this will have fun play patterns, but the rate is so bad that it's turning me off from building a Samurai deck. This does not need to cost eight mana. I think it should cost five or six. It's really hard for aggressive creature decks to play cards that cost so much mana.

I like how this design makes the life gain feel like more than just the "had to have something white" option. If I've got at least a couple Samurai when I cast this, I probably win the game on the spot, but that's fine for an eight-mana card. I like how this card ties together pretty much everything relevant about Samurai in your set and makes me really want to build a Samurai Commander deck.

The modal attack trigger is interesting, and I like that this card creates effects based on bushido that doesn't further affect the size of your Samurai. The components tie into the colors and all feel like they connect to your Samurai theme. I also like the nod to Umezawa. This is my favorite of your designs.

Design 8

Shichiro, Seventh Samurai (mythic rare)
5RW
Legendary Planeswalker — Shichiro
4
+1: Create two 1/1 white Samurai creature tokens with bushido 1. Then, if you control six or more Samurai, you may transform Shichiro, Seventh Samurai
-2: Return target creature card from your graveyard to the battlefield with a training counter on it. That creature gains haste, bushido 1, and is a Samurai in addition to its other types.
///
Shichiro, Lord General
(red/white)
Legendary Creature — Human Samurai
7/7
Haste, vigilance
Samurai you control have bushido X, where X is the number of loyalty counters on Shichiro, Lord General.

This is a very flavorful design. He trains Samurai, and leads them into battle. However, he has room for a third ability, and I would use that. Design isn't just about stopping with the perfect flavor, it is about creating cards that people want to play and enjoy playing for the decisions of the game. Sometimes Samurai become pacified. If Shichiro could destroy target enchantment or artifact (perhaps dealing damage to its controller), it wouldn't fit perfectly into your narrative, but it would be nice to have that option available in the game, rather than always building an army and flipping the planeswalker.

Very high cost for not a whole lot of reward. I think the design as a whole is interesting. I like the idea of a planeswalker that becomes a creature if a condition is met. I think the -2 ability comes with a lot of tracking (although, with such a high mana cost and low starting loyalty, you're probably not activating this one much). I dislike the bushido X because that ability can be ignored by interacting with creatures in other ways besides getting into combat. Overall, I think it's a novel design, but just has a very weak rate and not enough tribal reward. My favorite thing about this card is that I don't need to increase the loyalty to get the "ultimate," I can either plus this a bunch of times, or play more Samurai and plus it once.

This is design space I'd expect to see explored someday, but this doesn't tell me the story I'd expect of a Planeswalker losing their spark. I like the idea of a planeswalker whose "ultimate" is accessed in a way other than spending a pile of loyalty counters, but this doesn't feel like the cleanest design for that. The second ability has a weird mixed flavor of reanimation and training that I also don't get.

There is a lot going on with this card. In addition to all the words, it forces you to track a lot of things including creature tokens with a stat changing ability, creature cards from your graveyard that have additional abilities, and loyalty counters that interact with combat math. The front side is almost primarily white with only the haste-granting ability being red. Wait, there is one more thing not white—the second ability. White can reanimate small creatures, but it can't just bring back any creature from the graveyard (the few historical exceptions bring back white creatures like Angels). The backside is also not red save again the haste. Finally, the bushido overriding can do odd things like shrink your Samurai's bushido when he gets low on loyalty. I would have made it additive rather than a replacement. All in all, while there's some cool elements, it's a bit of a muddle of a design.

Overall Judge Commentary

The designs are flavorful. You concentrated on the stated assignment. But, implicitly, every assignment, and every card in every assignment is about making a game that is fun to play. There are two major problems here. First, there is a delicate balance when making rewards that trigger when your opponent blocks your creature: you need a big enough reward to make an exciting card, yet you need to tempt the opponent into choosing to block. There is interesting space to explore; normally combat tricks punish your opponent for blocking, maybe you should design tricks that punish the opponent for not blocking (or not attacking?). In any event, you didn't design toward temptation. Secondly, people only want to do so much arithmetic. Samurai already force arithmetic with bushido. Instead of so many cards with stat bonuses, you should have minimized the frequency of those bonuses and found other rewards. Ideally put flavorful rewards that match the Samurai and aren't just stats. But, above all else, keep thinking about how players have fun, or won't have fun, when working on your next assignment.

Overall I was not a fan of the mechanical identity of your Samurai. The main mechanic already grants a stat bonus, so I didn't like the direction you went of giving more stat bonuses. I think your coolest designs were your mythic rares (despite some rate issues). I liked how bushido mattered in other ways, and your planeswalker was novel and interesting.

"All Samurai have bushido" is a pretty big design constraint. Also, the bushido mechanic inherently makes combat take a lot more brainpower, so you're using up a lot of your complexity and other pump effects have a higher complexity cost as well. I do like the overall flavor you're going for here, and even with some misses in execution, I find your choice of direction flavorfully appropriate. I think it would play differently from any other tribe we've done in the past.

Last week you were in the top half of the designs, and this week you're in the bottom half. While I like the choice of Samurai for your tribe and the boldness of making bushido matter, this week's designs are a bit of a mess. First off, as the other judges have all pointed out, bushido is a mechanic that complicates combat math. That means you have to keep the effects generated by bushido away from changing stats. Second, making bushido matter means finding ways to encourage your opponent to attack and block. Most of your designs discourage it. There was a lot of good flavor and clever top-down design, but it didn't often service your gameplay. I can't stress how important playtesting is. I recommend letting your two playtesters play with you watching. Keep track of how hard it is for them to do what your designs are asking them to do. You have strong ideas, but your execution needs more fine tuning.

CONTINUE

Scott, you stumbled a bit this week, but I can see lots of exciting raw ideas. For this next challenge, I want you on work more on execution. Playtest! Playtest! Playtest!

Challenge #2

Judges

Eli Shiffrin

Erik Lauer

Melissa DeTora

Guest judge Aaron Forsythe

Mark Rosewater

Contestant Comments

When I think of circuses, three things come to mind: excitement, variety, and rainbow colors. I felt the best way to express all three was with the escalate mechanic. Escalate captures the flavor of growing excitement, gives variety with its options, and can have a multicolor component with differently colored escalate costs (like flashback in Innistrad).

I divided the circus into color pairs (acrobats in white-blue, magicians in blue-black, clowns in black-red, strongmen/women in red-green, and animals/tamers in green-white), and made at least one card from each "faction."

Unlike Ravnica/Khans that want you to play only one faction, Bigtopia wants you to play as many colors as possible. Trapeze Artist gets a bonus if you're playing other colors, Circus Tent helps play multiple colors but not more-demanding single-color costs (it's legendary to prevent paradoxes in multiples), and the multicolor escalate cards encourage splashing to get more oomph.

Circus Peanuts is a complex/unique uncommon, but as a cycle of "concessions" I think it could work similar to Amonkhet's "brick counter" cards. It being a colored artifact is a different flavor than Esper or New Phyrexia; it's to show that the circus is so vivid, even the artifacts have colors.

The planeswalker Mitsi is a swindling illusionist who makes your opponent's cards disappear, your opponent's creatures disappear, then your opponent disappear when she turns them into an illusion. Cyrus, the five-color leader of all the circus factions, is at his best when all the colors come together to make the greatest show possible.

Design 1

Seltzer Bottle (common)
1R
Sorcery
Escalate 1B
Choose one or both —
• Up to two target creatures can't block this turn.
• Seltzer Bottle deals 2 damage divided as you choose among one or two target creatures and/or players.

Since you dipped into the post-Dominaria templating elsewhere in your submission, I'll call you out on "creatures and/or players" here; you want "one or two targets."

This seems like a mono-red card. To make this black-red, both effects should be red, but the combination should feel more black. I don't think this card does that.

This is too strong for a common. It is incredibly flexible. It can kill up to two things for two mana, or kill and falter later. Falter effects are strong, but situational. When you put them on common removal spells it can lead to unfun/non-interactive games. I would find a different ability besides falter.

This card, especially when escalated, feels so savage—so game-winning in Limited—that it drowns out any charm the flavor tries to lend to it. In a "normal" set this card would probably be concepted as some kind of seismic event that shoots lava at things, which makes it hard to buy as spraying things with seltzer. Charming concepts need charming effects to work.

I like the first ability, but I'm not sure why seltzer is hurting creatures. I like what escalate is doing mechanically, but the flavor connection is tenuous. I also agree with Erik that if you're going to escalate in a second color, the combination of the abilities needs to feel like the second color.

Design 2

Trapeze Artist (common)
1WU
Creature — Human
2/2
Flying
Trapeze Artist gets +1/+1 as long as you control a black, red, or green permanent.
Trapeze ropes alone cannot hold the circus together.

This tells me to play a lot of colors, which might not match the set theme. It is important that directional commons match the set theme.

Seeing this card with no context, I would assume that this is a wedge set, or a heavy multicolored set. This card is asking me to play three colors, on a common. That's difficult to do in most sets. That said, the rate and complexity are at appropriate levels for a common. Flavor is good as well.

I dislike the kind of environment this card implies—one where I should be drafting dual lands as high as possible to both give my deck any hope of casting its cards, while also denying everyone else at the table that ability. I feel like this card is asking too much; it's a below-rate flier that's hard to cast, but if your crazy mana comes out perfect, it can lead to some oppressively powerful draws.

This is a flavorful common. Like some of the other judges, I'm a bit skeptical of how hard you're pushing the multicolor theme at common.

Design 3

Circus Peanuts (uncommon)
2G
Artifact — Concession
Circus Peanuts enters the battlefield with three snack counters on it.
T, Remove a snack counter from Circus Peanuts: Add one mana of any color.
When there are no snack counters on Circus Peanuts, sacrifice it and create a 3/3 green Elephant creature token.

Using new subtypes to tie a cycle together should only happen when there's something using that subtype, such as searching for it, triggering off it, or checking that it exists. Let's not add a new subtype, based on what you've shown here. Also, beware that state trigger on the end—this is a pretty tame example, but state triggers can ruin games really fast. They're better than mana abilities that create tokens, so you get Rules Manager Points for avoiding the Gemstone Mine template, but we can find a third even better solution like an end step trigger.

This is totally adorable, and is my favorite card of your set.

This is very cute! I love the story here. I think this would be a sweet common for Limited, especially if the set is multicolor themed. Rate is average for a mana-fixer, but the bonus you get after you use this up is very rewarding. This is one of my favorite cards in the entire challenge.

A home run! Could be my favorite design of the week. It does everything you want—give you mana in the early to mid-game when you need it, then effortlessly becomes a relevant body later on. All this while being a wonderfully flavorful card.

In the judge meeting, this was the pick for best design of the week. It has the perfect mix of adorable flavor and engaging gameplay. I also appreciate that you made a flavorful color fixer with your multicolor theme.

Design 4

Lion Tamer (uncommon)
2GW
Creature — Human
1/1
When Lion Tamer enters the battlefield, create a 2/2 white Cat creature token.
1, T: Target Cat gets +3/+3 until end of turn.
The whip turns them from kittens into beasts.

I like this a lot. Also, it has plenty of obvious development knobs.

Very powerful uncommon. I think the power level could be distributed a little better. Right now, a lot of the power is in the activated ability, and since the base creature is a 1/1, you'll almost never attack or block with this. Sometimes when you're sizing creatures that have powerful abilities, you should ask yourself is the body relevant, or is this just an enchantment? Some knobs here are to make the creature 2/2, increase the cost of the activation, have it give Cats +2/+2. I think the design is cool.

These kinds of on-board tricks are more paralyzing that they are fun, especially if there's more than a few Cats in the set. I'd much prefer a static or triggered ability. Flavor is fine here.

I like this card a lot. It's both flavorful and allows you to draft around it. Good job! My one critical note is I'd probably make the activated ability more expensive so it's active (aka the opponent has to think about it) less of the time.

Design 5

Feats of Strength (rare)
1G
Instant
Escalate 1R
Choose one or more —
• Put two +1/+1 counters on target creature.
• Target creature gains indestructible and trample until end of turn.
• Target creature you control fights target creature you don't control.

Good job here of putting the modes in a reasonable order. The last two could be switched with no functional difference in their normal use case, but indestructible before the fight answers a common question. However, gaining trample before the fight might raise a different question. Will players think that you're promising them that trample will add value to the fight? Is there a better reward to offer here instead of trample?

This does a better job of feeling more red as you combine the abilities.

Looks more uncommon than rare. The card looks fun and the abilities and costs seem reasonable, but this is not really a rare design.

This is a pile of green words that doesn't read rare, but probably plays out in such a way that it needs to be in order to not ruin Limited. Unlikely to be good enough in Constructed (see the zero-mana costs for choosing additional effects on Atarka's Command and Collective Brutality). The flavor barely works; I'd hardly call this a top-down design.

I think the card plays better if you can target different creatures, but the flavor is better if you target the same creature. I guess having the art show the latter and allow the former is the right call. I agree with Melissa and Aaron that this doesn't feel rare.

Design 6

Cyrus's Circus Tent (rare)
Legendary Land
T: Add C.
T: Add one mana of any color that other lands you control couldn't produce.
"Any ringleader worth their weight makes sure all colors of their circus shine bright, and let me tell you, I weigh a lot."
—Cyrus McBride

Being legendary is great, since two of these would cause an ugly, awful question. However, it does still get weird with Reflecting Pool. I have this, Pool, and Plains, so Reflecting Pool can tap for W, and this can tap for UBRG. But that means Reflecting Pool can tap for UBRG, right? But then this can't! Ugh, you've created a paradox and destroyed all of space and time.

I have contemplated putting this land in a set before, but I am not sure how this should work with some other unusual lands, such as Reflecting Pool. While I find it promising that you are exploring this space, I don't think this card is fruitful.

While this looks reasonable on paper (after all, we've printed Reflecting Pool multiple times), in practice this land is much too strong for a Standard set. On turn one, it produces every color, with no drawback. The fact that the land "gets worse" the later the game goes does not justify the strength of this. It needs another drawback. That said, what I do like about this is that it adds C, so that you don't get completely hosed if your opponent casts Abundant Growth on one of your lands.

Again, when I read this I don't think "circus tent." The power of this card is really dangerous—it always gives you access to every color without any real downside. People would likely play four copies of this and deal with the legendary drawback, and I don't think we'd like the results of that.

This is one of those designs that reads darling on paper and becomes much more problematic when it gets printed on an actual card. I do appreciate how you're designing cards to play into the set's larger theme.

Design 7

Cyrus McBride, Ringmaster (mythic rare)
WUBRG
Legendary Creature — Giant
When Cyrus McBride, Ringmaster enters the battlefield, exile the top X cards of your library face down, where X is the number of colors among other permanents you control
At the beginning of your upkeep, reveal one of the exiled cards at random. If it's a land card, put it onto the battlefield. Otherwise, you may cast it without paying its mana cost.
5/5

If you reveal a card that you can't cast, it stays exiled face down and can get turned up later. Is that what you want?

This is very splashy, and a clear mythic rare. It clearly promotes five-color decks, but I am not sure that is a theme of the circus setting.

I think this design is good and it looks like a fun build-around for multiple formats. However, while it has a restrictive mana cost, it does something inherently broken. We have to be careful with cheating on mana, and the variance here is very high. Sometimes this will do nothing, but sometimes you hit a card that costs five-plus you are getting a huge mana reduction which can lead to swingy games (something that is okay for formats like Commander, but could be problematic for Standard). Some directions to go here are to pay mana to cast the card for free (Djinn of Wishes style), or have an "enters-the-battlefield" effect that puts the cards directly in your hand. I like the deck building constraint.

This card is sweet. It has a pretty good "ringmaster" feel—he gets more awesome the better the action around him is, and he keeps calling forth new acts. The card power feels appropriate for something that costs all five colors, and he seems like a really fun commander.

As this is a mythic rare that costs five colors of mana, I would just let the player have the five cards and not make them jump through an additional hoop. Other than that, I like it.

Design 8

Mitsi Wylde, Magician (mythic rare)
4UB
Legendary Planeswalker — Mitsi
5
+1: Target opponent exiles the top card of their library. Until end of turn, you may play that card.
-3: Exile target creature. Create a 2/2 blue Illusion creature token with "When this creature becomes the target of a spell or ability, sacrifice it."
-7: Target opponent gets an emblem with "When you become the target of a spell or ability, you lose the game."

The -3 ability is so strong, it makes it hard to make this card fun. The ultimate is too close to "your opponent loses the game" in its text. I am not a fan of this design.

In all of R&D, I am probably the biggest hater of effects that cast your opponent's stuff. I think it's fun to do sometimes (like Gonti), but not fun when it's every turn (like Nightveil Specter). That said, I think this first ability is at a reasonable rate for what you have to invest into it, but I think this card would be unfun if you're playing against it all the time at high levels. I think this ultimates too quickly for what the ultimate does. I'm incentivized to just plus this to ultimate, and not use the minus, because of how quickly I can win with it. I think this is a card that the Play Design team could work with.

Another card I enjoy. She feels like a magician with her combination of sleight-of-hand, illusion, and her ultimate. Colors and cost feel right. I might reword a few things so that her first ability isn't able to trigger her emblem's effect, but other than that very cool.

I love the idea of a magician planeswalker, but I feel this design doesn't really deliver on the promise. The middle ability is the only one that really feels like a magician's effect. Also, when I get to eight loyalty, I kill you in two turns. That doesn't seem particularly fun (I'm agreeing with Aaron that the first ability shouldn't allow you to win with the emblem on the battlefield). Usually, ultimates give you a big leg up, they don't just automatically win the game.

Overall Judge Commentary

You have some interesting designs. Circus Peanuts is a fantastic card. Your escalate idea is very difficult to execute properly, but it can work. However, the assignment did not say we were creating a five-color set, so I don't think it is proper to make multiple cards that say to make a five-color deck. My advice is to make cards that, other than whatever the assignment is about, are targeted toward a typical Magic set, not a specific one (such as an artifact set, or a five-color set).

Your vision of playing every color possible is problematic in Limited formats, because everyone will be fighting over the same cards (mana fixing and multicolored payoffs), making the Draft format high-variance. The most recent Modern Masters set had this vision, and while it was fun, since the drafts were pretty much the same every time, it did not make the format very replayable. We don't want to make formats like that in our major booster releases. I liked your use of escalate. It's good flavor for your world, fun, and has a variety of play patterns. Overall, I thought your flavor was very good, and Circus Peanuts was very well done. Your card designs were overall good, and were cards that the Play Design team could use to craft the Standard format around.

I didn't like the direction you wanted to take his set, and I don't think escalate was making for charming cards, but there were some bright spots in these submissions. You were middle of the pack for me.

The judges picked one of your cards as the best design of the week. Interestingly, the win came from the consensus from the judges that you had the most consistent design even if none of the judges listed you as their individual top choice. Circus Peanuts was chosen as the overall best individual card design. You stumbled a bit last week, so it was nice to see you regain your footing. My biggest issue with your design this week was I wasn't all that fond of your overarching set theme. I like a circus theme having more gold cards than normal, but a push to playing all five colors feels thematically wrong to me. Also, while I like the mechanical use of escalate, it doesn't seem like the best fit for the overall circus-world flavor. Where you shined for me was in the details of your designs. I often talk about how design is where your audience falls in love with the cards, and your designs were full of things to fall in love with. I hope you find a way to keep that charm in future designs.

CONTINUE 

Scott, I see a lot of promise in you, but I also know that you sometimes get led astray by poor choices early in the process. My advice is to be open to shifting larger concepts if early playtesting shows they aren't working. For example, caring about bushido sounds cool, but you have to audible if the designs don't come out well.

Challenge #3

Judges

Eli Shiffrin

Erik Lauer

Melissa DeTora

Guest judge Jules Robins

Mark Rosewater

Contestant Comments

Creatures with ancestry can be exiled from the graveyard to become an "ancestor" to a "descendant" on the battlefield, boosting their power/toughness and granting abilities. It's a fun way to get value out of creatures in your graveyard, and odd ancestor/descendant pairings are part of the mechanic's charm.

Ancestry feels like a mixture between scavenge and bestow. Like scavenge, it lets you get value out of creatures in the early and late game, but ancestry also grants abilities in addition to power/toughness boosts. Like bestow it grants abilities, but ancestry eliminates the bad feeling of holding a card in hand until you can get full value.

There are several ways ancestry can grant abilities. I want to show many different possibilities on these eight cards, so I utilized static abilities, ETB triggers, death triggers, the unique "becomes an ancestor" trigger, and more.

Ancestry's power/toughness and ability boost is about the same complexity as Equipment/Auras, and all common/uncommon creatures with ancestry have square stats to make math easier. The reminder text is written to avoid using Xs and Ys.

Ancestry is very flexible and open ended—all it requires is a creature with ancestry in your graveyard and a creature on the battlefield.

The common Legacy Protector is intended to help you reach the late game to hit higher ancestry costs, Lineage Historian digs for cards and dumps bonus ancestry cards in the graveyard, and Mausoleum Caretaker can grab back some of those self-milled creatures.

Let's make some crazy family trees!

Design 1

Heritage Guardian (common)
4G
Creature — Elf Warrior Spirit
4/4
Heritage Guardian and its descendant have trample.
Ancestry 6G (You may pay 6G and exile this card from your graveyard as the ancestor of target creature you control. Add this card's power and toughness to its descendant's. Ancestry only as a sorcery.)

Your keyword is very similar to scavenge. The card is good at showing your mechanic.

On paper this looks like an appropriate common, but in practice, I don't think it is. I understand what you're going for here, but I think this card is miscosted. You're not going to play a 6GG 8/8 trample. It's hard to cast, and does nothing early game. But it is very common for a player to play a 4G 4/4 trample. When you add the 6G +4/+4 trample to a card that has little opportunity cost to play in your deck, you will see many games come down to not being able to deal with a 6G 8/8 (on average) trample. I don't like a creature of this cost and size at common (look at common bestow for examples. Nylea's Emissary was uncommon and close to this). I would start the ancestry cost at 7G.

This card reads like a simple a common, but belies one of this mechanic's central challenges: it's very powerful. Korozda Monitor was not a weak common in Return to Ravnica Draft, and this card has a significantly better rate on multiple fronts. Like scavenge, balancing this mechanic would likely require a number of pretty overcosted-looking designs. The ancestry on this card is very likely to create a 7-plus power trampler with "haste," and thus be much more game-deciding than we typically make commons.

Your mechanic has a lot of flavor and some interesting gameplay potential, but has one big problem—it's awash with memory issues (power, toughness, extra abilities, etc.). So much so, that my gut says the only way to capture what you're trying to do here is with a new frame that can act as a reminder of how the new creature is altered. The mechanic is exiled to be used, so a frame execution could work. I would have been happier if you recognized this problem and offered up that you needed a new frame along with suggestions of how you might have done that. As for this card, I think it's too big for a common. These cards should roughly match an Aura of that rarity, and +4/+4 and trample isn't really common. Finally, I would have made your first common have no extra ability. If you have to have it, the creature should just have trample. Yes, you save space by combining the trample-granting, but it makes the creature harder to process on the battlefield.

Design 2

Legacy Protector (common)
2W
Creature — Human Spirit
2/2
When Legacy Protector enters the battlefield or becomes an ancestor, you gain 2 life.
Ancestry 4W (You may pay 4W and exile this card from your graveyard as the ancestor of target creature you control. Add this card's power and toughness to its descendant's. Ancestry only as a sorcery.)

This is also a fine common.

This one is costed more appropriately. Nice design.

This card's costing is much more in line with what we could actually print, though it looks pretty weak as a result. Enters or ancestor triggers are appealing space for commons beyond French vanillas in that placing the ancestor under its descendant with just its power and toughness showing still conveys all the pertinent information.

This at least feels more common of a boost. The "enters the battlefield" and "becomes an ancestor" triggers seems cute and are simple enough for a common.

Design 3

Destructive Relative (common)
R
Creature — Goblin Spirit
1/1
When Destructive Relative or its descendant dies, it deals damage equal to its power to target player.
Ancestry 3R (You may pay 3R and exile this card from your graveyard as the ancestor of target creature you control. Add this card's power and toughness to its descendant's. Ancestry only as a sorcery.)

This is an interesting common build-around, motivating the player to pile on to a single creature. I like that you created a one-drop. I suspect that the ancestry is too efficient for Limited gameplay and will create too many games where someone feels locked out.

This card does not feel common at all to me. The base creature is, but when you factor in that late game this makes a threat that is frustrating to block and kill (if they are low enough, they can't let it through and can't trade with it, so they will have to chump it forever). I don't think this is a good common effect but looks like a fun uncommon, because an effect like this shouldn't be happening too frequently.

This space is harder to remember on board than a keyword the player is likely already familiar with and therefor might be better suited to uncommon. The design itself is clean, though it does have to potential to create toxic gameplay patterns if it's too easy to put on a large creature. Then an opponent at low life will be unable to attack into it or kill it in combat without losing the game, and thus end up chump blocking turn after turn.

This design is cute. It only reinforces my complexity issue, though. Now you're grafting on a death trigger (enters-the-battlefield triggers happen when you use the card, so it's less of a memory issue). I do like that it creates a larger effect when it's in ancestor mode, so what you "ancestor" matters. I agree with the other judges that this card feels uncommon and not common.

Design 4

Lineage Historian (uncommon)
3U
Creature — Merfolk Spirit
2/2
When Lineage Historian enters the battlefield or becomes an ancestor, look at the top three cards of your library. Put one of them into your hand and the rest into your graveyard.
Ancestry 3UU (You may pay 3UU and exile this card from your graveyard as the ancestor of target creature you control. Add this card's power and toughness to its descendant's. Ancestry only as a sorcery.)

The amount of card advantage here is too much. I would just let you put some in your graveyard, and some back on top of your library similar to Taigam's Scheming. I like the selection to graveyard giving synergy with the mechanic.

This is already a card-flow mechanic, a way to reuse things after you got one use out of them. I don't think I'd put a card-advantage ability here, considering you are already getting two uses out of one card.

Ancestry is already a card-advantage ability of a sort, so be careful piling more on (when the creature dies it's "drawing" you an Aura). The self-mill is a fun interaction to put alongside a mechanic that operates out of the graveyard to incentivize playing multiple ancestry cards together.

An ancestor card that sets up other ancestor cards is nice. Like the other judges, I'm not sure it needed the card advantage, though. That ups the cost a bunch and creates more potential for developmental concerns. I would have probably looked at three and, in any combination, put back on top of library or into the graveyard.

Design 5

Mausoleum Caretaker (uncommon)
2B
Creature — Vampire Spirit
1/1
When Mausoleum Caretaker or its descendant dies, you may return another target creature card from your graveyard to your hand.
Ancestry 1BB (You may pay 1BB and exile this card from your graveyard as the ancestor of target creature you control. Add this card's power and toughness to its descendant's. Ancestry only as a sorcery.)

This is a little odd with ancestry, in that you don't necessarily want to pick up your ancestry cards. However, it is very interesting with a self-mill strategy, and is appropriate at uncommon.

This is similar to the above design in that you are just gaining cards out of an ability that is already giving you multiple uses out of your cards. The body is so tiny, and +1/+1 is not relevant, that this card is all about getting a double Gravedigger, and not at all about upgrading a creature. It's not really showing me what you can do with the mechanic. All I'm really seeing is double enters-the-battlefield triggers.

This graveyard interaction is rather less satisfying. Returning creatures from the graveyard directly competes with ancestry when targeting cards with the ability. The fact that this card gives you a creature to put the Aura on is cool, but the potential to reuse the same annoying creature that your opponent killed three times can make for miserable gameplay.

I can see you're thinking ahead to what your enablers are going to do and adjusting for it. I'm not sure I would include this on an ancestry card, and if I did I would make it an enters-the-battlefield trigger and not a death trigger to avoid confusion (players will often skip over "another").

Design 6

Brushfire Witch (rare)
1RG
Creature — Goblin Shaman Spirit
1/1
Brushfire Witch and its descendant have "1RG: This creature deals X damage to any target and this creature gets +X/+X until end of turn, where X is its power."
Ancestry 4RG (You may pay 4RG and exile this card from your graveyard as the ancestor of target creature you control. Add this card's power and toughness to its descendant's. Ancestry only as a sorcery.)

This is an exciting reward uncommon, which separates the mechanic from scavenge.

Once you start to add activated abilities to these, you begin to run into tracking issues. This one is very difficult, because it's pumping power, and dealing damage, and the damage dealt is not the same as the creature's base power and toughness. There's just a lot going on here. Additionally, too much of the power here is in the activated ability and not in the power and toughness. I don't want to get this into combat at all, and only use the activated ability many times in a turn.

This card makes it clear why you should think the Aura part is cool, but comes bottled with too much swinginess and the potential for toxic gameplay. At six mana, you're unlikely to be able to pay the ancestry cost and use the ability in the same turn, so this card is liable to put you very far behind if your opponent has a removal spell for this card's descendant, but be nigh unbeatable if they don't. Even if you only get a 1/1 for a descendant, it can kill almost any combination of creatures your opponent could play with the two activations you have the mana for already. So, until the game ends the whole thing devolves into your opponent desperately hoping to topdeck removal while feeling like all their plays are useless.

Now we're grafting activated abilities? You're all in on the complexity. I would have made this a singular effect rather than two effects stapled together. When complexity is an issue, less is more in design.

Design 7

Tidal Waveshaper (rare)
3WU
Creature — Merfolk Wizard Spirit
3/1
Whenever Tidal Waveshaper or its descendant attacks, create a token that's a copy of another target attacking creature and that's tapped and attacking.
Ancestry 4WU (You may pay 4WU and exile this card from your graveyard as the ancestor of target creature you control. Add this card's power and toughness to its descendant's. Ancestry only as a sorcery.)

Ancestry already creates a challenging amount of information in the game state. You have creatures in your graveyard that you might use later, you have exiled creatures that are changing the creatures on the board state both in stats and abilities. This would add token copies of creatures, whose stats and abilities are not visually represented. This is too much, and I would replace this card.

Clones/creature copying are very popular among all types of players. We are always looking for ways to make more cards like this. I think this card is fine. It's not doing anything particularly novel. It's very fragile as a five-mana 3/1. Non-square stats make this card hard to process, and with it also making tokens every turn, this card has a lot of complexity. I'm not sure why it has to copy tapped attacking creatures. I don't see what is white about this.

Copying is a bit of a confusing choice in a set with a new way to improve your creatures. The token copy won't have an ancestor even though the original did, but many players will think it carries over, especially if we put the copying on a card with ancestry itself. That aside, tracking token copies of multiple different creatures is very difficult, so a card needs to pass a pretty high fun bar to justify putting that much strain on the players. Attack triggers do take great advantage of the effective "haste" that Auras have, so kudos on that element.

In for a penny, in for a pound. Now you're branching into attack triggers. I don't think copying effects are great in a world of text splicing, as that's bound to confuse players. Since it can trigger multiple times, the effect doesn't need to be quite so epic. Again, in the land of complexity, less is more.

Design 8

Spirit of the Eternal Wood (mythic rare)
1GG
Creature — Elemental Spirit
3/3
When Spirit of the Eternal Wood's descendant dies, return Spirit of the Eternal Wood from exile to the battlefield.
Ancestry 3GG (You may pay 3GG and exile this card from your graveyard as the ancestor of target creature you control. Add this card's power and toughness to its descendant's. Ancestry only as a sorcery.)

That is a great reward. It is appealing, and the mana cost of ancestry protects against broken loops.

Other than tracking issues, I don't see a problem with this card, it's costed appropriately and does a pretty cool thing. I'm not sure I'd make this a mythic rare, besides the fact that this looks unbeatable in Limited. Recursive midrange threat is not anything new.

This is a solid mythic rare, though not the crème de la crème of excitement. It manages to give players the dream of infinite value without playing out in a hyper-repetitive manner, which is tough to pull off.

The thing that's been working for you the strongest is the flavor, and this is the one where I don't quite get what the flavor is. Mechanically, it makes for a pretty daunting card, but hey, it's a mythic rare.

Overall Judge Commentary

This is a really nice example of how to manage a keyword that does many different things: distribute the load between multiple other words so you're not overstuffing one word, keep those words semantically related so you can lean on existing knowledge, and keep the whole thing self-contained without outside pieces sticking in. The one piece of rules-related feedback I have here is to make sure to use a happy little colon in the reminder text so your playtesters can tell it's an activated ability right away, and they don't have to ask you if it uses the stack, etcetera. I can see a couple of questions we'll need to answer: When exactly does something become an ancestor? Should the card be exiled as a cost or on resolution? You played it pretty safe on your cards, rules-wise; the only notes I have just dovetail back into the underlying questions about the keyword.

You made a diverse set of cards that explore the design space of the mechanic. However, its similarity to scavenge works against its novelty.

I think your mechanic is fine. We've had scavenge before so we know the gameplay there works. We've done bestow, so we know we can solve the tracking issues. The mechanic has tons of design space. That said, this mechanic feels safe to me. It's just a take on something we have already done. About commons—there's more to common than simplicity. Since they show up frequently in Draft and are the backbone of Limited games, you have to be mindful of what kinds of effects you have there. If you have an aggressively costed creature that is hard to deal with or creates snowball-y gameplay that takes over a Limited game, that probably should not be a common.

Ancestry has a lot of appealing space and one pretty difficult hurdle. Generally, I'd rank it as a solid mechanic, but I find it a bit mysterious as a choice for this competition. This was a chance for you to show us something we'd never considered before, but looking at scavenge, you have to assume that using the whole card was something we considered. You may think we made the wrong call to go with the +1/+1 counter version. You may be right, or you may have missed something, but if I were looking at making a mechanic this close to something we've done, my first step would be to ask someone who worked on that set why they didn't go this direction, not to hang my hat on it. Your individual card designs read very appealingly, but a few of them have potential fail cases that could be pretty unfun to play against. Make sure you're thinking about your designs from both sides of the table.

I think you made a very flavorful mechanic and had a lot of novel designs with it. I have two big issues. The first is the one all the other judges covered. This design challenge was a chance for you to show off a brand-new mechanic, and you ended up making a mechanic that was a cross between two mechanics we'd already done. Sometimes you can make something that feels new by combining old things, but I don't think you accomplished this here. Ancestry just feels too close to scavenge. The second issue is the bigger one for me personally. You made a mechanic that is very hard to track. So much so, as I said above, I think you would need a play aid of some kind to help remind the players of all the things they have to track. Because the card is exiled to use, a new frame seems like the likeliest option. I wish you had understood the weight of what your mechanic was requiring and offered up a solution to solve it. My final note to you is more of an ongoing note rather than one about just this challenge. After every judging, we all get together and share notes about how each candidate is doing. I ask the judges to put each candidate into one of three categories: top, middle, or bottom. You have gotten the reputation of being "the middle guy." Everyone always puts you in the middle. While that has kept you from getting eliminated and even helped you win a highly contentious design challenge, being in the middle is not the road to the top three and isn't what's going to help you win GDS3.

CONTINUE 

Scott, I feel of all the candidates, you've been playing it the safest. You made the top 8 because you have a good design sense and you make solid, playable cards. But as we eliminate more designers, being in the middle is going to start becoming being in the bottom. You have to step up your innovation and try some designs that make us sit up and notice.

Challenge #4

Judges

Eli Shiffrin

Erik Lauer

Melissa DeTora

Guest judge Jenna Helland

Mark Rosewater

Contestant Comments

With this challenge, my goal was to innovate and explore new design territory. I focused on translating the spirit of each individual card in fun/new ways.

  1. Palace Sanctuary: It may feel strange for white to pump Beasts/Plants, but it hits the flavor mark as an organized palace wildlife sanctuary. Super fun to build around.
  2. Wizened Arbiter: A Spike-friendly toolbox creature that lets them outplay their opponent by getting the right card for any situation, and by saving cards in hand to potentially exchange later.
  3. Riverborn Transmogrifier: A new take on transmogrification, bouncing rather than destroying/exiling. Can get value on your own creatures, or bounce an opponent's in a pinch.
  4. Wisps Between Worlds: An enticingly breakable enchantment that will get people excited when they interact with previously "untouchable" cards. Dangerous but exciting as a one-of mythic rare.
  5. Bloodrite Vassal: Combines a flavorful delayed sacrifice trigger with an activated ability.
  6. Devourer of the Skies: Wording allows for alternate casting during multiplayer games, or when your planeswalker is attacked. Timmy/Tammy will love surprise-chomping their opponent's Dragon and getting a different-sized Wurm each time.
  7. Hellfire Blessing: Johnny/Jenny will have fun building a deck full of self-mill, self-discard, flashback red spells, and other cards around this. My playtesters certainly did!
  8. Shock Goblin: Combines block-punishment with forced blocking/hugging.
  9. Secret of the Vines: Limited mana fixing/ramp that doubles with other flavorful utility. Felt great to curve a Plant from this into Palace Sanctuary.
  10. Blobification: It oozes with quirk.

Design 1

Palace Sanctuary (uncommon)
3W
Stairs
Enchantment
Beast, Bird, and Plant creatures you control get +2/+2.
All things grow rich inside the palace, especially the inhabitants of its courtyard.

This is a build-around reward. However, it asks a lot of a set, and is not going to work in most sets.

It's definitely weird for a white card to pump Beasts and Plants, but the card does make sense given the flavor. +2/+2 to your team is a powerful effect for a Limited uncommon and will make games very swingy. I would have made this +1/+1 and grant a keyword.

Grade: A. I like the name with the art. But the inclusion of a Plant creature seems odd here.

The art is a great match for the card effect. The card effect though is a bit quirky. I like forcing the player to have to combine things they don't normally combine and I get the flavor you're going for. This is something you'd have to commit a decent amount of resources in your design to supporting, but assuming you want a bunch of Beasts, Birds, and Plants, I could see it working. You would also probably need some Beasts and/or Plants in white, which is not something we normally do much of. (My assumption is this theme would be a green-white thing at minimum.)

Design 2

Wizened Arbiter (rare)
WW
Hammer
Creature — Human Soldier Wizard
2/1
When Wizened Arbiter enters the battlefield, you may reveal a white card you own from outside the game. If you do, exchange that card with a card in your hand.
With just one whirl of his hammer, what would've been a light tap turned into a catastrophic blow.

By exchanging the cards rather than exiling the card from hand, you're moving a card from the game outside of the game entirely. That's unprecedented outside of Unhinged's AWOL. If that's not a deliberate design decision, let's use the more standard template:

When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, you may exile a card from your hand. If you do, you may choose a white card you own from outside the game, reveal it, and put it into your hand.

This is so far off on a power level, that I am very distracted from how to fix it. I might restrict the wish in an additional way. I have an idea of only white cards with converted mana cost 2 or less, but I am not sure white can do that. I would then need to take this to the Council of Colors.

Very interesting card and useful at all stages of the game. However, since wishing is essentially tutoring, it's not appropriate for white. Additionally, I don't think hand filtering/looting is appropriate for white. I do like the idea here and I think we can use this effect somewhere, just not on a white card.

Grade: A. We haven't done very many Soldier Wizards, but good attempt to justify the art.

The art isn't a slam dunk, but I think it captures the card well enough. As Erik and Melissa pointed out, white can't "wish" (get from exile) any card. It can get anything it could tutor for—artifacts, enchantments, and planeswalkers (and the occasional small or white-themed creature).

Design 3

Riverborn Transmogrifier (common)
2U
Snakes
Creature — Lizard Wizard
2/2
When Riverborn Transmogrifier enters the battlefield, return another target creature to its owner's hand. That creature's controller creates a 1/1 blue Turtle creature token.
He helps others come out of their shell.

I'm only advising and not grading, but I hope someone gives you a point for making a Lizard Wizard.

This is a cute card; I bounce your creature, and he leaves a Turtle behind.

This is a very cool design, but not one that I would make at common. Between the flexibility (you can bounce your stuff and reset "enters-the-battlefield" triggers while making tokens) and tempo gain, I think this rate is too high for a card showing up this frequently in Limited. That said, the card looks sweet with some rate adjustments. I think the art matches very well with the design.

Grade: A. Not a lot of blue Lizards, but if you change that creature type to Merfolk Shaman then it's a good package.

The art seems like a good match. If the creature is transmogrifying the creature, it should be exiled (or possibly destroyed but I prefer exiled). Putting it back in the hand causes the awkwardness that it gets played on the next turn and now the creature and the thing it "changed into" are sitting side by side. Also, you get a point for making a Lizard Wizard.

Design 4

Wisps Between Worlds (mythic rare)
U
Wisps
Enchantment
1U: Target player exiles the top card of their library.
3UU, Exile Wisps Between Worlds: Put target exiled permanent card onto the battlefield under your control.
The wind carries whispers from those on the other side. Can you hear them?

You can't target a face-down exiled card (it has no card types, so it can't be a permanent card), so we should add "face-up" to the targeting description and remove that question entirely. Watch out for how players expect this to interact with red's "exile and you may cast" effects. You could end up with priority fights depending on when the card gets exiled. Maybe restrict this to sorcery timing to avoid that?

This card has a very interesting combination of winning by milling, getting threats, and combining with other exile effects. It has plenty of development knobs, such as the activation costs, and whether you could get permanents exiled by other cards.

Another design that looks very cool and fun with some rate adjustments. I think you can do some broken things with this, since it reads any exiled permanent. This card itself has a very low cost to put in your deck, you can just run this out there at any time and use it when the opponent's shields are down. I would have made this more mana to cast and decrease the mana to sac. I'd probably start it at 2U to cast, 3U to sac. I'm liking the art on this card as well.

Grade: B. I like this direction for this illustration. There's enough magic in the art to justify an enchantment card, and the flavor text has a nice tone.

The art does a fine job of representing the Wizard casting the spell. I'm not sure what the face represents though. In general, I like this design. I like that it's a milling card that can turn into a milled card. My one complaint is that the card it's playing needs to be exiled by this card. Cards can't return any card from exile. (Battle for Zendikar was a special exception, and those exiled cards then went to the graveyard.) Cards can bring back things they exiled (we often use exile as a holding area for effects), so this spell can get back cards it exiled. I understand you were trying to break a rule. This is just a dangerous rule to break as it undoes our ability to build in safeguards to spells.

Design 5

Bloodrite Vassal (common)
B
Cauldron
Creature — Human Cleric
1/1
1B: Bloodrite Vassal gets +3/+0 until end of turn. Activate this ability only once each turn. Sacrifice it at the beginning of the next end step.
"It is done, my master. My last moments, I relinquish them to you."

Because black and red have the strongest removal cards, I try and keep their common creatures distinct. This feels a lot more like a red common than a black common, so I would replace this.

I wouldn't really call this a creature with an activated ability as far as what the hole was asking for. It's a one-shot, and only dealing extra damage, and you have to lose your creature. I do think this is an appropriate complexity for common, but I don't think it's appealing enough for players to put this in their Limited deck. That said, the art matches the mechanic nicely.

Grade: A. Yep, good flavor!

Another good art match-up. I agree with Melissa though that you didn't really meet the mechanical constraint of this card. When we're looking for an activation, it's so the player will have the means to use extra mana (or other resources). A one-shot activation, and a cheap one at that, doesn't really fit this need. That said, I also agree with Erik that this card reads more red than black.

Design 6

Devourer of the Skies (mythic rare)
5BB
Teeth
Creature — Wurm
3/3
If a creature with flying that an opponent controls is attacking, you may cast Devourer of the Skies for 3BB and as though it had flash.
When Devourer of the Skies enters the battlefield, destroy target creature. When that creature dies this turn, put X +1/+1 counters on Devourer of the Skies, where X is that creature's power.

The death trigger isn't quite right, but it shouldn't be a trigger anyway. There's not normally a good reason to interact between the creature dying and the counters being added, and if the target creature has a death trigger itself it invites questions about the ordering that you don't need to deal with.

There are some cool elements here, though it seems a bit too punishing.

This card reads more Spike than Timmy to me (rate and play pattern, you feel like you're outplaying them when casting it for flash). It also does not read as a splashy mythic rare, more like a giant Chupacabra with upside.

Grade: A. Wurms are more common in green. Because this is black, we'd probably want Horror or Beast instead.

The art does a great job of capturing the card effect. I like the overall effect, but I'm not sure it doesn't just want flash. This is a mystic rare—don't make the player have to jump through too many hoops to make a cool thing happen. Also, the fact that you can flash this onto the battlefield because they have an attacking flier and then block a creature other than the flier is awkward. Finally, I agree with Melissa that this is more a Spike card than a Timmy/Tammy one.

Design 7

Hellfire Blessing (rare)
RRR
Huge
Sorcery
Hellfire Blessing deals 10 damage to you.
Whenever you cast a red instant or sorcery spell, if Hellfire Blessing is in your graveyard, create a 2/1 red Berserker creature token with haste.
The baptism of fire is best avoided if possible.

The idea of a card that hurts you to cast, because it is so powerful in your graveyard, is very interesting. This card rewards you for casting instants and sorceries, so it is very easy to build so you won't end up casting it. It would be more fun if some of the time you did cast it. While Bridge from Below is very powerful, it allows opponents who don't have anti-graveyard cards to interact with it by sacrificing a creature. Hellfire Blessing needs something. So, I would change this to:

R
Sorcery
Hellfire Blessing deals 2 damage to you.
Whenever you cast an instant or sorcery spell, if Hellfire is in your graveyard, you may return it to your hand. If you do, create a 2/1 red Berserker creature token with haste.

The hole asked for an instant or sorcery, but I don't think this counts. It plays like an enchantment and I never want to cast this. I'm just going to rummage or mill it away. I would prefer if the spell side was actually something you'd want to cast, even if it was a weak rate burn spell. I think the graveyard effect is much too strong and scales too greatly in multiples. There needs to be a mana cost on here somewhere, otherwise you'll just build a deck that discards a bunch of these and then win with cantrips. This card is very hard to interact with. I dislike the initial design, but the space is cool, we can adjust things and make it fun.

Grade: B. The Berserker token helps justify the two figures in the art.

The art seems like a good match. I agree with Melissa that you basically made an enchantment and not an instant or sorcery. I agree with Erik that while there's something cool buried inside this spell, it has an awkward construction. Also, the 10 damage seems way too much. I assume, by the way, that you mixed up design 7 and design 8. Be careful on the details of execution.

Design 8

Shock Goblin (uncommon)
3RR
Leap
Creature — Goblin Warrior
4/2
Whenever Shock Goblin becomes blocked by a creature, it deals 2 damage to that creature.
2R: Target creature blocks Shock Goblin this turn if able.
"Gimme a hug!"

There is something here, but the activated ability does not look all that fun. However, I think it could be fun at a higher activation cost.

This card is interesting in a few ways, but I think the overall package is a bit too frustrating for Limited. Each ability by itself is cool but late game with a lot of mana you can just kill multiple low-toughness creatures in a turn. There will be some board states where opponents won't be able to cast their 2-toughness creatures. I think this card can stand alone without the activated ability, just increase the stats a bit. I like the art for this card, the name and flavor look good to me and the Goblin does look like it's shocking something.

Grade: B. The flavor tells a good story. Cute flavor text.

This art is more of a mismatch for me. The creature attacking could be a Goblin, but the magical effect seems to be enhancing him, not causing damage to the Minotaur. As for the mechanic, it seems a bit harsh against small creatures. Also, red can make creatures block if able, but green is the color that makes you specifically block a certain creature.

Design 9

Blobification (uncommon)
1G
Blob
Enchantment — Aura
Enchant permanent you control
Enchanted permanent is a 3/3 Ooze creature in addition to its other types.
If enchanted permanent is white, it has lifelink. If it's blue, it has flying. If it's black, it has deathtouch. If it's red, it has first strike. If it's green, it has vigilance. If it's colorless, it has trample.

The trample bit has two of its oozing quirks to be careful touching. All of the keywords are cumulative except the colorless one. Does this imply that something can be both white and colorless? Keep an eye out for players simply misreading the card, too, because it's easy to skim the ability, see trample last, and assume that's the green reward. Reordering it solves both problems:

As long as enchanted creature is colorless, it has trample. Otherwise, it has lifelink if it's white, flying if it's blue, deathtouch if it's black, first strike if it's red, and vigilance if it's green.

This is an amusing design. I think it needs to be a bit bigger, such as 4/4. However, the card might be a lot more interesting if you can target your opponent's permanents, though that would no longer be a green card.

This card is weird. We asked for a quirky Aura, and this definitely is one. One problem I'm having with it is that it's extremely wordy for a card that's usually only granting one keyword. It's interesting that you can animate lands with it, complex in that you can animate Auras/Equipment, and it's not clear to most players what happens when Auras/Equipment become 3/3s. Overall, I don't think this card is worth adding to a set given the complexity versus how little it actually does.

Grade: B. The transformation into an Ooze works but it doesn't illustrate why it would have the other abilities.

The art hits the Ooze part of the spell but, as Jenna points out, none of the granting of other abilities. Mechanically, this card is quite quirky, but has a few issues. First, changing permanents into other creatures is more of a blue ability and when green does it, it's usually only on creatures and then they turn pretty large, much larger than 3/3. Second, the overall feel of the card turning any permanent into a creature and granting up to six abilities is more rare than uncommon. Third, it's odd to have a colorless reward that can't overlap with any of the other five rewards which all can overlap with one another. Again, as you did in red, you accidentally swapped design 9 and design 10.

Design 10

Secret of the Vines (common)
2G
Mask
Sorcery
Search your library for a basic land card or a Plant creature card with converted mana cost 2 or less and put that card onto the battlefield tapped. Then shuffle your library.
Vines grow around ancient secrets, ready to share with those who seek them.

This is a very clever ramp variant. The set needs to have at least one Plant for you to find.

This is interesting. Designs like this restrict future design space, and if this potential set has a lot of Plants, it's something we have to balance around. The idea is interesting. Creature tutoring doesn't really feel common, though. The art and flavor are great.

Grade: A. Nice flavor with this art.

This card does a great job of matching the art, and the Plant rider on the land searching spell is cute. Good job!

Overall Judge Commentary

Your designs are innovative, but unpolished. While it was challenging to make good use of your designs, enough paid off. A bit more iteration on your part is needed to continue in the competition.

I felt that your designs had a lot of rate and complexity issues. Some cards had unfun and/or repetitive play patterns. That said, most of your designs used innovative space and were cards that Play Design could work with. I think your cards were great in terms of flavor and art choices.

I feel that you explored a lot of interesting and unique design space and then executed it poorly. You had numerous color pie issues, developmental issues, rules issues and, worst of all, gameplay (aka fun) issues. That said, the thing I most look for in a designer is the ability to see things other designers don't, and you have that ability. Many of your designs made me smile because you were trying something I hadn't seen before. And your search for a land or Plant design made me outright laugh.

CONTINUE 

Scott, this was another week where you squeaked by. You have so many great ideas, but you're getting caught up in execution. If you want to make the Top 3, I need you to focus on execution on this next design challenge. Tap into that designer brain, get a cool idea, and then make sure you're executing in the cleanest and most fun way. Also, please pay attention to the color pie.

Challenge #5

Judges

Eli Shiffrin

Erik Lauer

Melissa DeTora

Guest judge Ken Nagle

Mark Rosewater

Set: Innistrad

Innistrad is Magic's most flavorful plane in my opinion.

Contestant Comments

My goal was to create cool new cards that would feel right at home on Innistrad. The cards fall into three categories:

#1. New Horror Tropes

  • Last Grasp is the hero defeating the monster with their last ounce of strength. Synergizes with white's abundance of death triggers and token making.
  • Wall of Flesh is a creepy sacrifice outlet.
  • Taxidermist prevents flavor-fail transformations or activations on his "stuffed" victims.
  • Innocuous Sprout is the little plant that grows and devours everything.

#2. New Tribal Stuff

  • Bind the Beast and Trial by Drowning play into Innistrad's light tribal themes. Bind the Beast's wording prevents a stolen Human/Human Werewolf from counting itself.
  • Wolf Pup supports Werewolves and Tracking Hound supports/deters them.
  • Innistrad feels like a perfect home for charms to ward off enemies, hence Blood Charm, part of a five-color cycle. Each charm uses that color's overlapping creature types.

#3. New Mechanical/Thematic Stuff

  • Devil Poker gets its morbid bonus as long as it's in play, as opposed to ETB morbid commons/uncommons that disappoint when they don't trigger.
  • Curse of Arachnids is green's curse since it's never gotten one in a Standard set.
  • Lab Assistant (Delver combo!) and Graveyard Salvage get things back after self-milling, since nothing feels worse than milling your curse, Burning Vengeance, or Laboratory Maniac.
  • Vengeful Flame is part of a rare cycle of creatures with flashback. It's a risk to include, but the biggest risk in Magic is not taking any.

Design 1

Island (basic land)
Basic Land — Island

Boo! Hiss!

Not a spooky Swamp?

Design 2

Last Grasp (common)
W
Enchantment — Aura
Flash
Enchant creature you control
When enchanted creature dies, you may destroy target creature that dealt damage this turn.
"I may not live to see the end of your kind's terror, but I can at least make sure that you don't either!"

A typical use is you put this on your blocking creature that is going to die in combat, it dies to combat damage, and then you kill an attacking creature. The number of players who won't appreciate this when they read the card is too high for a common card.

I think the play pattern here is interesting, but these are bizarre and confusing words to read on a common Aura. This is hard to use; the timing must be perfect. This could do nothing if your opponent kills your guy before damage, which can lead to some feel-bad moments. I think for a common removal spell this could be a Reciprocate effect and still capture the flavor.

This is a white retribution spell with some extra hoops. There is normally a clunky white common removal card each set, but this might be too clunky. I'm sure there's a shorter way to say the flavor text; Jenna Helland is always asking for shorter versions.

White is tertiary in flash within the current color pie, meaning it doesn't get it often and very rarely at common. I'm not sure this couldn't just be an instant with "destroy target creature that dealt damage to a creature you control this turn." Also, although you're not being judged on your names, be careful not to use names too close to existing names (there's a card called Last Gasp).

Design 3

Tracking Hound (common)
3W
Creature — Hound
2/5
Tracking Hound has vigilance as long as there is a Werewolf on the battlefield.
"What's wrong, buddy? It's just the town mayor. He's our friend."

This is adorable.

You often have to be careful about rewarding yourself for your opponent controlling things. It can cause tracking issues, or it can make your opponent feel punished for playing their cards. In this case I think the bonus is low-impact enough that it's okay.

This is somewhere between liking and disliking Werewolves. I know players have been wanting some white support for Werewolves in the form of "players can't cast more than one spell each turn" and/or the Grimlock promo I made. Domesticated hounds are certainly white and this one has lots of flavor. I'm a little afraid of sending mixed signals that there's Werewolf support in white.

I get the flavor, but I'm not quite sure of the gameplay. Also, if this supposed to encourage you to play Werewolves with it, I would say "Werewolves or Wolves" since we used Wolves to fill out Werewolf tribal as they were Limited to double-faced cards.

Design 4

Lab Assistant (common)
3U
Creature — Human Advisor
2/2
When Lab Assistant enters the battlefield, you may put target instant or sorcery card from your graveyard on top of your library.
"Is this the secret you were delving for, sir?"

This is a nice design to pair with the Deranged Assistant.

I like the throwback here and the card itself looks like a fun and reasonable common. If it wasn't for the nostalgia this card could fit into any set.

For those Delver of Secrets players, or the more grown-up versions. This is probably an Igor-like character hunched over carrying scrolls and potions. Great!

This card is flavorful and synergistic. I like it.

Design 5

Trial by Drowning (common)
2BB
Instant
Destroy target creature. If it was a human, its controller creates a 1/1 white Spirit creature token with flying.
"Her spirit ascends after death. I therefore declare her innocent of witchcraft."

This is great in capturing the flavor of the setting, much like Victim of Night.

This card is okay. I'm not a huge fan of drawback removal in black, the color that gets the strongest removal. We don't want to disincentivize players from casting removal spells, especially at common.

Macabre concept here! I know when Jenna used an "accuse you of being a witch!" concept on Witch Hunt she made sure the accuser was another female. Maybe we'd show a female "non-witch" being drowned? Maybe not. That said, I enjoy the Human-plus-Spirit link, and I tried making such a card in Eldritch Moon that was cut. Nice!

Another flavorful design. Being four mana at common, it probably would want to be a sorcery.

Design 6

Wall of Flesh (common)
2B
Creature — Wall
0/4
Defender
Sacrifice another creature: Wall of Flesh gets +2/+0 until end of turn and can attack this turn as though it didn't have defender.
". . . more . . ."

This card is just too weak. While charging 1B makes this a card I could play with, it still wouldn't be all that fun. With Nantuko Husk, I am giving my opponent a choice every turn. Here I need to sacrifice a creature before attacking. It might be interesting if it also had 5B, T: Create a 0/1 creature token. But then this would really be a token creator, more than a wall that could attack. I would just replace this card.

I wouldn't do this at common at this rate. After the attack, you can just sacrifice everything and one-shot your opponent, for free. At common we usually put gates of some kind, like once a turn, as a sorcery, or a mana requirement. That said I do think this card is sweet, it just needs to have one of those knobs turned.

This feels great and a cool concept as well.

I agree with Melissa that I would have put a mana cost on the sacrifice, so that Wall of Flesh couldn't just attack for lethal out of the blue. Because this has the ability to do so much damage, I probably would have put it at uncommon. Other than that, I like the flavor.

Design 7

Blood Charm (common)
1R
Instant
Choose one —
• Target creature gets +3/+0 until end of turn.
• Target Vampire gains double strike until end of turn.
• Transform target Werewolf you control.
Their fangs were bared at the first scent of blood.

I like the idea of adding charms, and bringing up with tribes. However, double strike and +3/+0 are too close; when they are different enough, it is because double strike is first strike. To address this, I would give the Vampire trample and double strike.

I dislike this. It reads simple, but it is doing so many things. Not directional at all. Most Limited decks will not have use for all three of these modes, making this spell too narrow.

Assuming it's clean enough to concept one card into two tribal decks, I like how this is trying to bridge the gap. I'm less happy that +3/+0 overlaps with doubles strike so much (a la Boros Charm's double strike mode overlaps a lot with its own 4-damage mode). That said, I'm sure a Vial of Blood or similar concept works here.

It's weird that two of the modes target a specific creature type and one targets creatures in general. I would have had the first mode not target creatures to avoid this inconsistency.

Design 8

Devil Poker (common)
1R
Creature — Devil
2/1
Morbid — At the beginning of each end step, if a creature died this turn, Devil Poker deals 1 damage to each opponent.
"Nothing stokes the fire better than rotting flesh!"

This is a good morbid card. However, it is asking you to remember this card at the end of turn when you are not looking at it. I generally would not put that on a common.

Overall, this is a fine, simple ability to put on a common. There is some memory/tracking going on here with the end step trigger. You could make it your end step only to reduce that. Overall, I like this card.

I like this as a nicer, tamer version of Blood Artist–like cards. We usually don't like multi-triggering cards at common, but this is the right kind of incentive and archetype enabler. Also, death matters on Innistrad!

As the other judges have pointed out, I wouldn't do a morbid with a repeatable trigger at common. Other than that, I like this card.

Design 9

Graveyard Salvage (common)
1G
Sorcery
Return target creature or enchantment card from your graveyard to your hand.
Flashback 4G (You may cast this card from your graveyard for its flashback cost. Then exile it.)
Bones and charms both have lingering magic, waiting to be discovered and reused.

Very nice.

Better, color-shifted Morgue Theft! Narrow effects are great candidates for flashback commons. Looks fun. I don't see anything innovative here though.

I like this one, even though it's going to get Dead Weight back for its enchantment mode. This is a graveyard set so we want cards like this to ensure it. Maybe widening the gap at G then 6G, but there's plenty of nobs here.

There are some abilities that are carved up pretty precisely and getting things back from the graveyard is one of them. Green normally gets back any card from the graveyard or any permanent and usually at uncommon. As you start slicing up the card types, they get given to different colors. Black gets creatures and white gets enchantments, so this card is sitting in a bit of an awkward space, color pie wise.

Design 10

Wolf Pup (common)
G
Creature — Wolf
1/1
Wolf Pup gets +2/+2 as long as you control a non-Human Werewolf.
The moonlight sends even the runts into a frenzy.

When your Werewolf dies, this can lose toughness and also die in a chain event. I shy away from doing that at common.

This card suffers from "cascading death" syndrome, which is how we refer to a card that has a static toughness boost they can suddenly lose after combat, which would then cause them to die to state-based actions. If this blocks a 1/1 and then the opponent later kills your Werewolf, this will die. We avoid doing that at low rarities. This can be solved by making this an attack trigger that lasted until end of turn. That said, I think this is a little too swingy for a common one-drop, but it would mostly depend on what the Werewolves in the format are and how easy they are to transform.

This reminds me of my dog Booster! This pup "transforms" with your other Werewolves. While that's clever, I have a feeling it would contribute too much to getting run over by early snowballing Werewolves when you can't find a spell to cast. Higher up on the curve or less of a booster maybe.

I'm not sure we'd do a one-drop that can conditionally have 3 power at common. Also, the "cascading death" issue that Erik and Melissa point out makes this out of place at common.

Design 11

Bind the Beast (uncommon)
2UU
Enchantment — Aura
Enchant creature
You control enchanted creature.
At the beginning of the end step, if you don't both own and control a Human, sacrifice Bind the Beast.

This sounds like it could be satisfied if you control a Human I own and I control a Human you own. I'm going to guess that's not what you wanted because that's odd. Let's go with the clearer "if you don't control a Human you own."

The flavor is helpful, but this tends to be so frustrating that I would put this at rare.

I don't think Control Magic with sacrifice condition is an innovative design. I think "both own and control" is clunky wording.

We try not to make uncommon Control Magics. This one is very swingy with a Human or without. I understand the "own and control" part because you can steal a Human with it. I thought Humans were trying to be green-white so this double-blue card feels a bit off. Given all this, I question if we should make the card at all. Is this a hunter trapping the beast? I'm unsure here.

We tend to do creature-stealing enchantments at rare these days because of their potency in Limited. I also don't think you need "own." I'm fine with this stealing effect being better on Humans.

Design 12

Taxidermist (uncommon)
4BB
Creature — Human Wizard
3/3
When Taxidermist enters the battlefield, you may exile target creature card from a graveyard. If you do, create a token that's a copy of that card, except it has defender and loses all activated abilities.
"They're so much prettier when their mouths are sewn shut."

Okay, I laughed at the concept. But here's one for you: Your Taxidermist stuffs an Evil Twin (a card from the Innistrad set, no less!). The token is created with defender and it loses no abilities. Then the token's replacement effect is applied, and it copies Taxidermist—and that replacement effect gives it the ability to kill the Good Twin!

This is a nice twist on reanimation. Well done.

I get the flavor here, but making this a defender and losing activated abilities makes this card unappealing. I'm paying six mana for a 3/3 and a vanilla blocker. Not very exciting.

This is a great concept. It feels like you tried to make it uncommon by mana cost, but I feel clones are complex enough to just be rares, especially when they make tokens. Uncommon makes it too likely there are multiple clones at the same time in my opinion. I like the card otherwise and would've made it rare.

This card is very flavorful, but I agree with Melissa that I'm not sure stealing things that you can neither attack with nor use the abilities of is all that exciting.

Design 13

Curse of Arachnids (uncommon)
4GG
Enchantment — Aura Curse
Enchant player
At the beginning of enchanted player's upkeep, each other player creates a 1/2 green Spider creature token with reach.
"There's something on your neck . . . ."

I like brining back curses, and this is a good flavorful fit.

I like bringing back curses in Innistrad, and I like the callback to Spider Spawning. Overall a pretty cool design.

A green curse of arachnophobia is certainly something Innistrad could've had. Pretty great!

I like that you made a green curse. The absence of one is one of my biggest pet peeves about Innistrad (which is one of my favorite sets I've ever designed). The granting of Spiders is cute, and you matched the existing creature token in the set. Good job!

Design 14

Vengeful Flame (rare)
3RR
Creature — Elemental
3/3
When you cast Vengeful Flame, it deals 3 damage to any target.
Flashback 1RR (You may cast this card from your graveyard for its flashback cost. Then exile it. It doesn't enter the battlefield.)
The entity's final screech echoed from beyond the grave.

I see that you're trying to do a splashy stretch on flashback, but let's pull back a step from the mad science and use the "mana, exile this from your graveyard: effect" tech found in Shadows over Innistrad.

This is an interesting way of expanding flashback.

I think this is interesting space to explore as a cross between embalm and flashback. The riskiest thing about this space is that these abilities are uncounterable and hard to interact with. I probably would not make this flashback and instead make it a new keyword or just have activated abilities from the graveyard, like Shadows over Innistrad's Dauntless Cathar.

This is my favorite card from the whole challenge. Flashback is a workhorse mechanic we've used more than once and a clean implementation that just works on creature cards would be embraced that we'd make hundreds of cards with it. Embalm is sort of our kinda flashback version of creatures, but not really. This particular design is very card advantage-y but flashback has plenty of knobs to position it later.

I'll have to disagree with Ken. I dislike this design for two reasons. One, I dislike a flashback spell that doesn't do the same thing both times, as I think it causes confusion (that's how flashback works—consistency is important). Two, the amount of rules rewriting you have to do to make this work isn't worth the result. Just make a 3/3 creature with an "enters-the-battlefield" effect that Bolts that you can pay mana to exile it from the graveyard to Bolt something. It would do the same thing as this design and be significantly less confusing. As Eli and Melissa pointed out, Shadows over Innistrad did it that way.

Design 15

Innocuous Sprout (rare DFC)
3GG
Creature — Plant
0/3
Defender, reach
Whenever another creature dies, put a +1/+1 counter on Innocuous Sprout. Then, if it has three or more +1/+1 counters on it, transform it.

///

Coniferous Carnivore
(green)
Creature — Plant Horror
3/3
Reach
Whenever Coniferous Carnivore attacks, put a +1/+1 counter on it. Then you may have it fight target creature defending player controls.

This is a good build-around for a sacrifice deck. I am not sure if it will appeal to enough people to be a rare.

I like this as a flavorful top-down. Looks fun.

Mean green mother from outer space! I suspect it wants at least 1 power on the front side so there's more of a chance that something will die. I've had a card like this in more than one playtest, so it's more than cool enough for me.

I like the flavor of a plant that grows and eventually can move. I think the fight-on-attack trigger (remember the creature is a 7/7 creature at that point) is a bit much. This creature is most often going to kill two creatures a turn. Also, it requires you to carry over the fight damage to combat and the combat math will often get messed up.

Overall Judge Commentary

Your designs are solid, and generally fit well into Innistrad. This is a very solid set, and you have improved the most of any contestant.

I think overall your pack did feel like Innistrad, but I didn't feel that you added much new space to the set. The returning keywords were not really adding anything new. Your creature flashback card was not really a new take on flashback, we did this in Shadows over Innistrad on a handful of creatures that had flashback-like effects when you exiled them from the graveyard. I think your strongest designs were your callbacks, but overall, I felt like you didn't show me anything innovative this week.

All in all, there was more than enough flavor—lots of mentions of creature types can do that.

I think you did a good job of capturing the feel of the world of Innistrad and your designs, for the most part, seemed like they would play well. I agree with the other judges though that I was hoping to see a little more innovation, demonstrating things we could have done in Innistrad but didn't.

GAME OVER

Scott, I don't feel this elimination is you doing badly, but rather the other three designers doing better. You came into this week in last place, and while I think you had a good design challenge, unfortunately, the other three designers had stronger ones. I hope you stick with game design as I believe you're very talented and I'm eager to see the cool things you're going to come up with. I have been very impressed by you throughout this competition.

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