GDS2, Episode 6: Design Challenge Elimination

Posted in Feature on February 9, 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.

The first Great Designer Search was over four years ago, so I had forgotten how hard it is to cut designers as the contest continues. This Challenge in particular was extra hard for me. All four designers did an excellent job creating Intro Decks that were very fun to play. Unfortunately, only three designers get flown out to Renton, Washington, which means that I have the unfun task of eliminating one final designer. I will list each designer's name. If you click on it you will see whether they are in or out. Candidates that are in will have a green CONTINUE PLAYING. The candidate that is eliminated will have a red GAME OVER. I will then give a short summary of where I feel they stand or why they were eliminated.

Ethan Fleischer


If this competition were solely about the Design Challenges, I feel like you would sqeak out a victory as the winner. You've won two of the five Challenges and while I'm not giving you the win for the fifth Challenge you did build the best Intro Deck. Your work has been nothing short of spectacular and I am excited to get the chance to meet you in person. Excellent work.

Shawn Main


The fact that all five Design Challenges were set in the same world was a boon for some and a handicap for others. You picked a very hard world to design. I knew picking you for the Top 8 was going to put you at an unfortunate disadvantage because executing what you had come up with was going to be a bear. The fact that you won two Design Challenges despite that handicap is extraordinary. You are a very talented designer and have the ability to find answers in the most unlikely of places. I'm curious to see what you have to say when we put you in the hot seat. Fantastic work.

Scott Van Essen


Early on there was some debate on whether or not we should allow GDS1 candidates to compete in GDS2. I said that the GDS1 candidates (well, the ones we didn't hire) have to earn it like everyone else, but I wasn't going to deny them the opportunity. I'm very glad I did. As I said in the judging, you are the sole designer to get better with each Design Challenge. It took time for you to find your feet, but once you did, you kept discovering ways to dig in and improve your design.

I'm happy to officially call you the winner of Design Challenge #5. Tom is correct that you built a Theme Deck rather than an Intro Deck, but I am very impressed how you used this assignment to address so many of the issues we had with your world. I felt you had one of the strongest world concepts going in and I was afraid you weren't going to find what made it special. I'm so glad you did and I can't wait for you to finally have a chance at your dream interview. Wonderful work.

Devon Rule


It is with a sad heart that I have to let you go. You show so much promise and clearly have great design instincts. I think in the end what did you in was the same issue Shawn had. Your initial world was not as rich as the ones designed by the others. You had some neat concepts, but not ones that were grokkable or easily summed up. The fact that you lasted so long is a testament to your design skill. You kept finding ways to make each individual card interesting. Unfortunately, the GDS2 was more about world building than individual card design (which means you would have done awesome in GDS1).

I strongly urge you to stick with game design as you are a natural. You have plenty to learn, but seeing your work I can tell that you "get it" and have the capacity to absorb new skills quickly. I wish you the best and when GDS3 rolls around, definitely toss your hat in ... that is, if you don't already have a job as a game designer. (For the record, I don't know when, or even if a GDS3, is going to happen.) I hope you feel proud of all the work you did. It was excellent. I'm sorry three other people did slightly better.

Now that we know our final three, let's talk about what's going to happen next. The final three are going to be flown out on the same day sometime in March. They will then be subjected to what I call The Gauntlet. The Gauntlet is three one-hour meetings, back-to-back, with three different parts of R&D. (The final three will rotate between each room.) Then we will have our final Design Challenge live. (Unfortunately not live on the internet.)

We'll also find some time to let them enjoy their prize complete with a tour of Wizards, lunch with key R&D members and "drafts and dinner" with Magic R&D. The GDS2 will have one final show where I write up what happens and announce our winner.

I want to stress that the entire competition so far has been testing the applicants' design capabilities. There are numerous other factors that are important which is why we want the interview and live Design Challenge. Everything so far has merely gotten them in the door. Who we hire has a lot to do with what happens once they show up here. I have no idea who I'll be hiring when the dust settles. I am impressed with all of the final three and I am eager to get a chance to learn more about them. At this stage, it's anyone's competition to win.

For those that want some live updates on our interview day, definitely check out my (@maro254) and Ken's (@norrytt) Twitter accounts.

And then there were three ...

See you next episode, when the Great Designer Search 2 comes to a close and I get a new Design Intern.

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