Great Designer Search 3 – Judging the Design Tests

Posted in Feature on May 15, 2018

By Mark Rosewater

Working in R&D since '95, Mark became Magic head designer in '03. His hobbies: spending time with family, writing about Magic in all mediums, and creating short bios.

Hello, and welcome back to the Great Designer Search 3! Last time, we introduced our Top 8 contestants and showed you their submissions for the Trial 3 design test. Now, it's finally time to show you what the judges thought of each contestant's test!

As a reminder, this is the design test each contestant received:

For Trial 3, the design test, you will need to design ten cards that meet the following criteria:

  1. All the cards will be two-color and each of the ten two-color combinations (listed below) need to be represented.

  2. Each of the following five card types (creature, enchantment, instant, planeswalker and sorcery) needs to be represented twice, and never on the same color.

  3. Each rarity (common, uncommon, rare, and mythic rare) must be represented on at least two cards.

  4. Submit your cards in order of quality of design from what you consider your best design (first) to what you consider your worst design (last).

Cards must be submitted in the following format:

Name (rarity)
Mana Cost
Card Type – Subtype
Rules Text

Two examples solely for the purpose of card formatting (one creature, one spell):

Lab Experiment (common)
Creature – Bird Elephant Mutant
Flying, trample

That Should Hurt (uncommon)
CARDNAME deals 3 damage to target creature. That creature's controller discards two cards.

Here are the abbreviations for how mana is written:

W = white
U = blue
B = black
R = red
G = green
Number = number of generic mana (i.e. 2 for two generic mana)

Here is the mana order for two-color spells (you must have one design of each):

WU: white-blue
UB: blue-black
BR: black-red
RG: red-green
GW: green-white
WB: white-black
UR: blue-red
BG: black-green
RW: red-white
GU: green-blue

You have until 11:59 pm PT on Sunday, February 4, 2018, to submit this form. Good luck!

Our judges for GDS3 are Erik Lauer (in blue), Melissa DeTora (in red), Eli Shiffrin (in purple), and myself (in green). We'll also have a guest judge (in yellow) for each test and challenge, and our first guest judge is none other than the winner of Great Designer Search 2, Ethan Fleischer! I'll let Ethan introduce himself:

I'm Ethan Fleischer. As the winner of the Great Designer Search 2, it is my pleasure and my privilege to be a guest judge on the first show of GDS3. In my position as a senior designer in R&D, I tend to focus on the early stages of designing Magic sets; I've lead many exploratory and vision design teams. I lead the design teams that made Journey into Nyx, Commander (2014 Edition), Oath of the Gatewatch, Commander (2016 Edition), Amonkhet, and the upcoming Core Set 2019. I have made occasional forays into worldbuilding and set design as well. I also have a number of smaller roles in my portfolio: I am the blue member of the Council of Colors, the R&D liaison to the Commander Rules Committee, and the one responsible for tracking each Planeswalkers' mechanical identity. When I lead a set, I generally prefer to let my team members design the individual cards so I can concentrate on the broader themes, mechanics, and structure. I will approach my judging in the role of a set lead who is going through homework submissions to decide which cards to add to the set and playtest and which ones I would leave on the cutting room floor. I'll be looking for cards that are fun, novel, and/or resonant. I will concern myself with whether each card is assigned the appropriate rarity and colors. I won't judge the contestants' planeswalker designs too harshly; it took me years of work in R&D before I could design decent planeswalkers. I, and all other guest judges, will be appearing in yellow.

Now let's get on to the judging! Click each contestant's name below to head to their page and see the judges' comments on their submission.

After you've looked over each contestant's submission, and the commentary left by the judges, it's time to reveal the Challenge #1.

Design Challenge #1: You Might as Well Tribal

Tribal themes (cards that mechanically care about one or more creature types) have been popular since Limited Edition (Alpha). For this challenge, we want you to choose a creature type, ideally one that hasn't seen a lot of love in Magic's history, and design eight cards. As this is a design challenge, there are few requirements you'll have to meet:

  1. The creature type has to be unique from the other designers. We'll be taking requests first come, first served. Each designer will be using a different creature type. The creature type must be one that already exists in Magic and we strongly urge you avoid ones that have had a lot of previous tribal designs.

  2. All the creatures should be designed as if they were from the same set. Assume the set is a Standard-legal set.

  3. All eight cards must mechanically care about the creature type. They should not simply be the creature type.

  4. Two cards must be designed in each rarity (common, uncommon, rare, and mythic rare).

  5. At least two different colors must be used. The colors have to thematically fit the creature type in question. Multicolor designs are not required, but are allowed.

  6. You must have at least one artifact, one creature, one enchantment, one instant, one land, and one sorcery among your cards. (The remaining cards can be whatever you'd like.)

  7. For named keyword mechanics, you are allowed access to all evergreen mechanics and up to two non-evergreen mechanics (keywords and/or ability words). Note that there is no requirement to use named mechanics. Please do not create any new named keyword mechanics.

What will the judges be looking for?

Flavorful Design: The designs need to capture the feel of the creature type. These shouldn't be designs that any creature type could use, they should be designs that specifically make sense because of the creature type you're designing for.

Fun Gameplay: These cards can't just read well, they need to play well, most importantly in a tribal-themed deck. Make sure to build a tribal deck and playtest your designs.

Synergy: As the cards are all being designed as if they appear in the same set, we'll be looking at how well they play with one another.

Originality: Magic has made a lot of tribal cards over the years. We would like at least some of your designs to explore new tribal design space.

Color Pie Appropriateness: Your color choice needs to be appropriate to your flavor as well as your mechanical designs. Bends are allowed if appropriate (although be frugal with them), but breaks are not.

Rarity Appropriateness: Your designs need to fit into the rarity you're designing for. You can assume your tribal theme is large enough that it can show up in all rarities. Be careful in how you interact with creature types that aren't normally referenced at common.

Card Type Appropriateness: Make sure that your cards are properly representing the card type they're in. Note to be careful with cards that are mimicking other card types (for example, instants or sorceries that only create tokens). You have a little flexibility as we're only asking you to commit to six card types. You can use the extra cards to play in that space (aka if you make a sorcery that creates tokens, also make a sorcery that acts like a sorcery).

You will need to submit the following:

Your Name


Comments: You will have up to 250 words to say whatever you want about your design. You are free to talk about individual cards, but I would suggest spending some of your words explaining holistically what you were up to with your overall design.

We're excited to see what you come up with.

No one from the Top 8 was eliminated based on their design test—those test submissions are what got them into the Top 8 in the first place!—but the start of Challenge #1 means the gloves are coming off. Come back next time to see which contestants survive the first challenge, and which contestant in the Great Designer Search 3 Top 8 will be the first eliminated!

Latest Feature Articles


September 20, 2022

(Almost) Everything to Know About Unfinity Boosters! by, Mike Turian and Adam Styborski

Welcome to the lights and excitement of Unfinity! Magic's latest Un- set release is packed with attractions (and Attractions) to delight players—from the fresh-faced thrill seekers ready ...

Learn More


September 20, 2022

Unfinity Mechanics by, Matt Tabak

Welcome to Myra the Magnificent's Intergalactic Astrotorium of Fun! It's the galaxy's most awesome entertainment complex. For just a few credits, or whatever currency your planet uses, th...

Learn More



Feature Archive

Consult the archives for more articles!

See All