GDS2 Episode 5: "Booster Shot"

Posted in Feature on January 12, 2011

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.

Welcome to Episode #5 of the Great Designer Search 2. In our last episode the judges reviewed the submissions for the third Design Challenge and I made the third elimination, Jonathan Woodward. The remaining five contestants were then given the fourth Design Challenge. Today we'll be judging the submissions from that Challenge.


I'll begin, as normal, by introducing this week's judges: a special all-Mark show. Note that the color boxes they will be appearing in will be the one used throughout today's judging. Our first judge is myself:


MR: I want to use my little green boxes today to talk about the judging as the competition continues. All the Top 8 are strong designers. Each week I have a responsibility to eliminate someone. The criteria I use are very straightforward. I look at all the work done by each contestant from his entry tests through the latest Design Challenge and then examine them in the context of all the skills we have laid out that we are interested in, vision being number one. The person I cut merely sits at the bottom of the list of the remaining designers. This is no way speaks badly of that designer, merely there are others doing better than him. And with this group, it's a pretty high bar.

Our second judge is, of course, Mark "Ken" Nagle:

KEN: Greetings planeswalkers! I'm Ken Nagle, designer of Magic cards, cycles, mechanics, and sets. I've both pitched set designs that made it and others that didn't. I'll be looking at these boosters from a raw execution standpoint and whether the booster represents a set of high-enough quality. Magic sets can be as reviled as Homelands or as loved as Ravnica—where does your set measure up?

Our guest design judge today is Mark Globus:

MJG: Hello! I am Mark Globus, Senior Producer of Magic R&D. In addition to my day job of keeping Magic R&D running smoothly and effectively, I sometimes get to participate on various design and development teams. I have led the design of Magic 2012 as well as the development of Magic: The Gathering Commander. For Scars of Mirrodin, I designed the metalcraft mechanic. Some of you may remember me from the first Great Designer Search in which I tied for fourth. For this challenge I will be judging the boosters in terms of what they do for a casual Constructed player. Are there cards that go in my existing decks? Do any cards inspire me to build a new deck? What is exciting?

Our guest non-design judge is Mark Purvis:

Hello there! My name is Mark Purvis, and I'm the brand manager in charge of product for Magic: The Gathering. I'm also a total Magic goob, and I've been playing and collecting since Revised. Since coming to Wizards three years ago, I've had the pleasure of working on several design and development teams, including From the Vault, Planechase, Magic: The Gathering Commander, and Scars of Mirrodin. If you're desperately looking for a way to procrastinate the reading of this article, you can read about my pre-Wizards exploits at my old dossier here.

While I've been fortunate enough to get to play in R&D from time to time, my "day job" is much more focused on the business side of Magic, and this will be the perspective from which I judge these boosters. I work on Magic products on just about every step in their evolution, from costing their production to marketing them once they're finished. I care very much about the success of each set, both because Wizards is a business, and because the continued success of Magic means that we get to do more cool and innovative things with the brand.

The sets we make have to get our core audience excited without alienating brand new players. That's a tough balancing act, but it's vital to our game's future that we keep it accessible to potential new fans, and fresh and exciting to our core audience! This means that simple, but innovative cards and mechanics are going to be the most successful in my review.

It's also important for each set to have a "hook"—something that makes it different and unique so that our marketing and sales teams can get people excited about it. I'll also be looking for them to be consistent with the "modern fantasy" look and feel of Magic: The Gathering.

For the long-term health of Magic, it's very important for us to be constantly innovating within the framework Richard Garfield created. For the short term, we also want each set release to be successful! Is this booster going to make a Magic fan get excited about the new set? Is it going to be clear what the hook of that set is, so that they're just dying to know more about it? As a fan of the game myself, I'll be the judge!

I've been checking in on the GDS2 from time to time, but I'm not intimately familiar with the remaining candidates' card sets, so I will "open" each pack in order and make comments card by card before reading each candidate's world description at the end.

Booster Tutor

For our third Design Challenge, we asked our applicants to design a dream booster pack to show off their set and world. The idea was to maximize the experience of a player opening their very first booster from the set. We also asked for the designers to include a description of what was in the art of each card to help flesh out the first impression the booster would have. We gave the applicants two weeks to do this challenge because it was a very complicated one and by far the most difficult Design Challenge we had given them.

As I stress every show, what we are asking the designers to do is very hard. They are being asked to create results with a tiny fraction of the time and manpower that a real set would have. The judges are being harsh in our criticisms but please be aware that we have great respect for the work the applicants are doing.

Below are the five applicants each with their Design Challenge submission along with the judges' comments. Click on each name or avatar to see that candidate's material.

Once you are done reading what the judges had to say, click here for the fourth GDS2 elimination.

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