Great Designer Search 3 – Meet the Top 8

Posted in Feature on March 9, 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, I'm Mark Rosewater and I want to welcome you to the Great Designer Search 3 (GDS3). You have a front-row seat as you watch us select Magic's next design intern. Let me explain how we got here. I'll then walk you through how GDS3 is going to work, introduce you to our Top 8 contestants, let you meet our judges who will judge the design tests of the Top 8, and then let you see the design tests from our finalists.

In December, we announced the GDS3 and let people sign up to receive the first trial, an essay test, on January 15, 2018. 7,582 people signed up.

Trial 1 was ten questions each requiring a 250- to 350-word answer. You can see the design test along with what criteria we were looking for here.

3,056 people turned in the first trial and advanced to Trial 2, a multiple-choice test. Trial 2 had 75 questions covering a variety of design and R&D issues. (You can see the test here and here, along with the answers.) 94 candidates scored 73 or higher to advance to Trial 3, a design test.

The design test asked the contestants to design ten two-color cards to a specific set of constraints. (You can see Trial 3 along with my take on the challenges of the test here.) From this pool of 94 (using all three tests as judging material), I narrowed down the pool to fifteen candidates. My fellow judges and I then narrowed down the field to today's Top 8.

We will have five challenges knocking the Top 8 down to a Top 3. The three remaining contestants will then be flown to Wizards of the Coast's Renton office for a full day of activities. At the end, one will be crowned the winner and earn a six-month design internship.

Now, it's time to meet our Top 8. Each has chosen a Magic illustration as an icon to represent them in the challenges. I've asked them all to write an introduction to the audience. We will then give you their answers for Trial 1 and give you their result on Trial 2. Later the judges will be judging their designs for Trial 3.

It's time to meet the GDS3 Top 8, in their own words.

Alex Werner

In 1995, after graduating from college, I reunited with a high school friend, and he taught me a new game, the most confusing I'd ever played. (Have you tried reading the rules from back then? Batches, damage prevention windows, and interrupts, oh my!)

I've always loved creating puzzles and games, so I immediately started designing my own cards. I remember two from that first day: a magical ring that would double spells that you cast through it (i.e., Mirari) and a kind of Totem Armor for enchantments to protect my Circles of Protection, because I really loved Circles of Protection. Well, one out of two ain't bad . . .

Since then, I've never stopped designing cards, and, win or lose, I'm thrilled to have the chance to share what I come up with.

In true reality show style, I am, of course, not here to make friends. But congratulations to my fellow competitors, and best of luck.

Ari Nieh

Good morrow, gentles. Ari is my name,

A planeswalker 'ere ancient empires fell.

My heart is yet held captive by this game;

My eye enraptured by its every spell.

The second Great Designer Search I failed

With multiple choice score of forty-two.

But in the third, my plans shan't be derailed-

I'll take the crown and job in Renton too.

For seven tedious years I trained and schemed,

With Goblin Artisans, most stalwart friends,

And now, this chance portends what long I've dreamed-

That faith's reward may be triumphant ends.

O, may my muse arise to each constraint!

Designing cards is hard. (But rhyming ain't.)

Chris Mooney

Hey everyone, I'm Chris Mooney! Since I've got limited space and another essay about myself below, here are a few quick points about me as a Magic player.

  • Started playing: 2007 (7th grade)
  • First deck: "Izzet Gizmometry" Guildpact Theme Deck
  • First event: Rise of the Eldrazi Prerelease
  • Favorite formats: Limited of all kinds (followed by Commander)
  • Psychographic: Johnny, but raised as a Spike. (I love drafting unconventional decks but my responsible side annoyingly keeps me from doing so when it's suboptimal.)
  • List of cubes: Legacy, Innistrad, and Conspiracy (with Khans of Tarkir and Unstable under construction)
  • Favorite draft deck: Burning Vengeance (with Laboratory Maniac backup)
  • Favorite combo: Gravecrawler, Rooftop Storm, and Grimgrin
  • Favorite commander deck: Captain Mizzix of the S.S. Izmagnus, a (pre-Ixalan) Pirate-themed deck where (almost) every spell either steals something or has an X in its cost.
  • Favorite creature type: Weird

Jay Treat

You might know me from GDS2, Goblin Artisans, or one of my board games.

I've put a lot of work into becoming a better game designer, because I love giving people new ways to interact with their friends and challenging them with new perspectives.

I'm very excited to be back for GDS3: I deeply enjoy Magic design challenges, getting feedback from top professionals is a huge gift, and there are some fun ideas I'm excited to bring to Magic.

I'm so grateful to everyone who's helped me to grow and who's supported my love for Magic and game design: my fellow Artisans, my game design colleagues (past, present, and future Wizards, and other pioneers), and my friends and family. Thanks, Brenda. Thanks, Zach.

Thank you all.

Jeremy Geist

Here's everything you need to know about me, in list format!

Name: Jeremy Geist
Design experience: 3 years self-publishing as Phantom Knight Games

Magic experience: 11 years, starting with Time Spiral
Demographic: Timmy, maybe with a bit of Spike
Favorite format:
Conspiracy Draft
Favorite non-
Conspiracy set: Khans of Tarkir
Favorite color(s): Red and white
Favorite deck archetype: Token aggro
Favorite card: Mycoloth to play and Fatal Push as a design
Favorite basic lands:
Shards of Alara (Esper)
Favorite art: Rekindling Phoenix
Favorite flavor text: Brine Elemental
Magic-related media: Limited Resources
Favorite non-
Magic tabletop game: Cosmic Encounter
Non-game hobbies: Baking, writing plays, and reading manga
Character I most identify with in fiction: Kaiji
Escape room record: 0 for 2
Usual choice in RPGs: The party face
Weakness: Yogurt pretzels
Did I print a bunch of pictures of my face to use as Spirit tokens during
Shadows over Innistrad block: Yes

Linus Ulysses Hamilton

I've been a hobbyist game designer for longer than I've played Magic, but both of those numbers pale in comparison to the average amount of time I spend per shower. Ever since I hid my family's Christmas presents and made them go on a treasure hunt to find them, I've always loved creating experiences for other people. Before GDS3, I thought I would fulfill this need by creating video games in my free time. I'm crazy honored to have this bizarre chance to work in game design as a real job—I'm still having a hard time processing that I made it this far.

Ryan Siegel-Stechler

Hi gang! My name is Ryan. I live in Baltimore, with my wife and dog. My favorite foods are . . . that's not what you're here for, is it?

I think of Magic design as an art form. As corny as that might sound, I mean it earnestly. Magic design reminds me of when I'm writing poetry; both are about working with constraints to find new and unexpected ways to reach your audience. I always try to write poems that make people say "I didn't realize you could do that with language." That's really cool. Substitute language for Magic cards, and I hope you'll find my design aesthetic doesn't change much by medium.

Scott Wilson

Hey everyone! My name is Scott Wilson, and I'm a Japanese translator, ready to translate some sweet ideas into Magic cards. I've been playing Magic for eighteen of my 30 years on this planet, ever since Mercadian Masques seduced me away from other TCGs because I thought Wishmonger was the coolest card ever.

But just as much as I enjoy playing the game, I love designing my own Magic cards. One of my favorite pastimes is printing out my custom sets and forcing, er, inviting my friends to draft them. Nothing gets the blood pumping more than hearing screams of joy and horror from across the room, and knowing that you caused them.

In my free time I run ScottWritesStuff, a writing workshop stream on Twitch, and I wrote a book that's coming out this November.

Let's do this!

Now that we've met the contestants, it's time to meet the judges. For GDS3, we're going to have four regular judges and a rotating guest judge. For the sake of clarity, colored boxes will be used to differentiate the comments from each judge throughout GDS3, which you can see exemplified below.

Let's meet the regular judges now (we'll introduce the guest judges when they stop in).

I am Erik Lauer, the game design architect who heads final design. I have led the development of the more Magic sets of than any other developer. Those sets include Magic 2010, Innistrad, and Khans of Tarkir. When I look at Magic cards for this competition, I will put them through their paces the same way I would if it were in a normal Magic set. I look at how novel the card is, and what it inspires. Would this card lead to fun gameplay, and does iterating on the card lead to cards with great gameplay? In short, I am looking for fruitful initial designs, something that leads to a novel working Magic card. How much work would it take to make this a great Magic card? My comments will always appear in a blue box.

My name is Melissa DeTora and I am the Play Design rep on the judge panel for GDS3. I'm the newest member of R&D on this panel, and while I don't have the years of card design experience that my colleagues have, I do have a lot of experience playing Magic in high-level settings. I've been playing Magic since 1997 and have been playing on the Pro Tour since 2003. I started at Wizards as a development contractor in 2015 and then got hired on the Play Design team once that team came into fruition. I've been on several development teams and set design teams since I've been at Wizards, including Eldritch Moon, Kaladesh, Hour of Devastation, Ixalan, and Rivals of Ixalan. I also write the Play Design column on DailyMTG. Since I'm the Play Design rep, I'll be judging your submissions on things like power level, play pattern, fun, and how well it fits the rarity. I'll mostly be judging your submissions on a card-by-card basis. I'll always be appearing in red.

Hello, viewers at home and members of our studio audience, and congratulations to our Top 8 finalists! I'm Eli Shiffrin, the Magic rules manager, and I'll be standing over here in the shadows during this portion of the competition. My comments will be in purple. I've been on a few design teams, but I'm not here to critique the contestants' design skills. I'll only be weighing in on designs that have a particularly distinctive rules or templating quirk. Good designers should sometimes test the boundaries of the rules, and part of my job is providing a safety net; if you push those boundaries too hard, I'll be there to make sure you're fully informed about what you're doing and, in some cases, warn you that your design just won't work without overhauling a ton of game rules.

Hello, it's time to officially introduce myself as a judge. I'm Mark Rosewater. I've been making Magic sets as a member of R&D since 1995 and have been Magic's head designer since 2003. I've lead or co-lead the design for over 25 sets (with my highlights being Tempest, Ravnica, Zendikar, Innistrad, and the Un- sets). I write a Monday column called "Making Magic." I do a weekly podcast called "Drive to Work." And I have a blog called "Blogatog" where I answer questions every day. I plan to focus my judging on the overall appeal and execution of the card. Does it look fun? Is it flavorful? Would it excite players? Does it follow the color pie? Does it match the constraints for its card type and rarity? Is it aesthetic? Is it well crafted? I'll be examining the cards with my more vision design–focused eye. I'll also be the one officially eliminating contestants from the GDS3. I'm very impressed with the quality of our Top 8, but every week someone must go. When judging, I'll always appear in green.


Each show will also have a guest judge, who will change from week to week. The guest judges will be past GDS candidates and other R&D folk. The guest judge will always appear in yellow.

Now that introductions are out of the way, there's one last thing to talk about. It was originally our intent, as we did with GDS1 and GDS2, to have the Great Designer Search 3 content be delivered concurrent with the competition itself. As we started to ramp up, we realized that we were either going to have to truncate the content or have a buffer between it happening and us showing it to all of you. After some thought, we decided you'd rather see all of GDS3 with a delay than see only a portion of it quicker. What this means is we're going to be running the competition behind the scenes, and when we're sure we can consistently put out the content, we'll officially start the show (beginning with the judges giving commentary on the design tests). I apologize for the delay, but I promise a really fun show once it starts.

Each contestant has their own dedicated page, which you can see by clicking their name below. This is where the judging will go once it starts. So you guys have something to peruse while you wait, we've included each of the Top 8 candidates' design tests (Trial 3) for you all to see. The Top 8 are free to talk to you about anything that is public (such as their designs in the design test), but will have to stay mum about anything you all haven't seen yet. Note that their first challenge has started, so you might not hear a lot from them this weekend.

Good luck to all the contestants. I think we have a very talented Top 8 and I can't wait to see what they design!

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