The Great Designer Search 2 Finalists

Posted in Feature on November 10, 2010

By Staff

Shawn Main

Part I - The World

A. Wodotha

B. A crumbling world in a state of total war.

MR: I'm cracking down on everyone's logline because I need you all to start thinking about how you sell your set. This is crucial because how you're going to sell it has a huge impact on how you're going design it.

Let's examine your logline. "A crumbling world" hints at something although it's vague. "state of total war" implies dueling factions. As Scars of Mirrodin shows that's an okay theme but I'm don't really think that is what you're designing.

It could be. The set could become the Horde vs. the unnamed good guys (by the way, if you are going to have factions—name them) but as you'll see below I don't think that's where you're design is going to shine.

The point of your logline is to play up the cool feature. The world is being eaten away by some unknown force called The Blight. As they say in journalism school, "Don't bury your lead." The logline has to get to your good stuff and the best you can do is subtly hint at it.

My gut is that you want to play up the world being eaten away and talk about how that is causing the conflict that is going on.

C. In the Imperial Hall, children as young as nine are handed swords. There will be a rudimentary lesson in striking and parrying, but there is little time-- the eastern skies grow dark and crack with lightning: the Horde approaches. Worse than the Horde, their approach signals that the eastern mountains have succumbed. Even if the hall can withstand the Horde, the Blight will follow and they'll be driven into battle with the elves to the north.

It was merfolk, cloistered in their libraries, who first noticed the Blight. The vast seas seemed suddenly not so vast. Birds were dispatched to scour Wodotha for an answer. They discovered it: the edges of the world were tattered and crumbling fast. The merfolk recognized immediately what it would mean: their big world wasn't going to be big enough for everyone for much longer. If the merfolk civilization was to survive, they needed to mobilize and seize whatever piece of Wodotha they could.

What Wodotha doesn't know yet is why. And when they discover the cause of the Blight, there will only be more war.

Liliana never intended to destroy the world. She came to Wodotha to dispose of the Godorb. She thought that, in a world so isolated, it would simply be lost. But the Godorb was discovered by a sadistic demon prince, Chernabog. He used it to ignite his spark and all of Wodotha is paying the price as their world slowly crumbles from without while blood is shed within.

MR: I like the world you're setting up. It has inherent conflict and there is a sense of the unknown which is good for a first set of a block. Let's quickly look and see what you've set up that design is now going to have to pay off on:

  • The Horde: Every set needs some bad guys. These sound like them. They are going to want some mechanical identity, something that makes them feel ruthless
  • Implied good guy army: (See how much it wants a name?) Someone is fighting the horde and apparently some of them are nine. (I wouldn't show those on cards.) Their lack of description makes them sound human.
  • The hall: You've got a cool sounding place. Probably is going to need a land (maybe legendary, maybe not) to represent it.
  • Elves from the north: Here's where you're starting to move away from a traditional sense of war. There are more than two sides. While this is fine from an environmental sense, it does pull away some from a sense of conflict. Scars of Mirrodin doesn't have the Mirrans, the Phyrexians and then some ogres that might cause trouble.
  • You have to figure out whether two sides are fighting or whether there are many different groups all fighting with each other. The first is more compelling but it's possible to play up your cooler theme you might want to deemphasize the idea of a "war."
  • Merfolk who like to hang out in libraries: The merfolk at least seem allied with the "humans" rarther than a potential threat.
  • The Blight: Now we get to what I think of is the best thing about your world. Some unnamed force is destroying the world. (Not unnamed to us but to the creatures of the world.) Magic has had many conflicts. In fact, almost every set has some conflict to it. Magic is a game about fighting. What your world has that no one else does is the Blight.

This is a doule-edged sword. It gives your block some identity, but from a design standpoint it not only has to be represented, it has to be a focal point of your set. The thing that matters most in the story has to matter most in your design.

Every set needs a wow component. Whatever represents the Blight, I believe, is going to have to be that thing.

• Liliana: We like tying our planeswalkers into each set so I'm very glad you found a way to make her key to what's going on. Only a few in the Top 8 have done this yet, (Oh, they will.) so in this part you're ahead of the game.

• Godorb: A powerful artifact. Sounds good. Like the Blight because this one matters so much, you're going to have to make sure the card is pretty iconic. Also, this is really picky, but I'd actually called it the God Orb if that's the name you want rather than the godorb as I guarantee that a lot of people don't see those two words pressed together (unless that's what you're trying to do).

• Chernabog: You got a legendary demon villain. I like. Awesome name, by the way. Obviously needs a cool mythic card.

You definitely have set up good guys and bad and have an event to build around, so all the necesaary pieces are here. My concern is that you are not focusing your design in the same places you're focusing your story. More on this when we get to the cards.

D. The set is designed to give players the sense that they're raising armies. This means that having large numbers of creatures, tokens especially, is the mechanical focus. Each color gets two token types, a 1/1 (soldiers, merfolk, zombies, goblins, and elves) and something unique (2/2 white flying griffins, 1/1 blue flying birds, 2/2 black Vampires, 3/1 red hasty trampling Elementals that die at end of turn, and 3/3 green Elephants). To alleviate the problem of having more common token producers, I propose including two tokens in each pack, some as double sided tokens (perhaps even some foil tokens).

Too many creatures tends to clog up the battlefield and discourage attacking, so many mechanics encourage attacking, even when you expect to lose troops. Other mechanics utilize lots of creatures without attacking.

Convoke is brought back (in all colors) with the mechanical twist that you get a bonus if you pay for your spell only by tapping creatures. Swarm (in green and white) is a creature mechanic that makes an attacker bigger if it brings friends. The raid cycle rewards you for controlling tapped creatures, while many red and white cards get better if all your creatures are attacking. Black and red have bloodlust cards, which reward you if an opponent has been dealt damage. And blue, being the espionage color, gets a series of "untouchable" creatures that bounce blockers to their owners hands, functioning similar to deathtouch against tokens. The theme also allows better-than-usual spot removal.

MR: Your focus is very much on the conflict, which is fine. My biggest concern is that what sets your world apart for me isn't the conflict but the background (a.k.a. "the world is slowly getting eaten away").

The Blight is such a cool name that there is some chance that one of the three sets is even called The Blight (although we do shy away from "the" in titles). I want to see The Blight in your design. That's what's compelling, for me, about your world. I feel like the war is being caused by the Blight as creatures are forced together because their part of the world is being eaten away.

The war is a byproduct of the Blight and thus not the focus. Show me the Blight in your set design. Give me a cool mechanic that evokes the feel the creatures of this world are going through.

Also, I love token creatures as much as the next designer. A lie actually, I love them more. That said, there is such a thing as too many creature tokens. There's a reason we tend to limit ourselves to a handful of token types and then keep reusing them. I don't mind you stretching a little past the default but be careful not to make it too hard to track what's going on.

Also, the reason that we tend to have vanilla tokens is that it's hard to remember what little glass beads do, so we tend to limit extra abilties. Virtual vanillas are the best if they're going to do something (why haste works well). Flying is the most common ability we give tokens as it is the most basic keyword we have.

I'll talk about all the mechanics when we get to them on the cards.

Part II - The Cards

1. Week 1 Feature

Chernabog (Mythic Rare)
Planeswalker - Chernabog
0: Until end of turn, whenever a creature is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, put a loyalty counter on Chernabog and gain 2 life.
-3: Put target creature card from an opponent's graveyard onto the battlefield under your control.
-13: Target player loses the game.

KEN: So, to play with this, I need a heavy black deck, need lots of sacrifice fodder, or untap into a Day of Judgment effect with Chernabog still alive. The bigger fault is I don't believe Magic's planeswalkers are in need of bizarre loyalty gain just yet.

That minus ability isn't kind to fatties. I don't put fatty hate into my sets. I make developers do it. If that minus ability targeted a creature in your graveyard instead of your opponents, a ton more Grave Titans would get traded for and played.

Now, if I can kill or sacrifice just nine creatures, I can ultimate! Even Grave Titan has some work cut out for him.

I don't know what is salvagable here.

AJ: This card feels more like a quest than a planeswalker, as there's no way to gain loyalty without using external cards. We tend to print ultimates that read and play like "win the game" but we avoid actually writing "win the game", as Magic is often about the journey more than the end result. Both of the things you've done are perfectly interesting and worth doing on a single planeswalker apiece—I wouldn't put both gimicks on the same planeswalker.

KD: A Planeswalker and central figure of the storyline is an excellent choice for this feature.

MR: Most of our villains tend to not be planeswalkers. Why? Because being a planeswalker means that it's easy for the villain to leave the current plane and usually the inability to leave helps create the conflict. That said, there's no reason why the villain can't be a planeswalker, but it will make you have to answer the question of why is Chernabog on Wodotha as opposed to another plane. (To be fair, that's more of a creative issue than a design one.)

I really like the first ability. The idea of an ability that sets up a trigger is a compelling one. I'm not sure what rules issue it raises, but it's cool enough and creates enough design space that I'd be willing to talk about it with the Rules Manager.

The second ability is pretty good. It ties in with the first ability because the first ability tends to encourage you to kill the opponent's creatures.

Now we get to the third ability, which I hate. Why? Because the point of an ulitmate is to create some cool moment and just ending the game isn't all that cool. What I would much rather see is some crazy cool ability that is flavorful and will probably win the game, but as is, this last ability is the one big whiff on this design.

Note that I think it's important for the last ability to tie into the vibe going with the first two. "I destroy things and then use them for my personal gain." Also, remember that this is the shining moment to give us some insight into who the antagonist is. Make sure his abilities say something about him. The first two do. Make the third one do it as well.

2. Making Magic

Boiling Ballad (Rare)
[Infernal Convokation (sic) -
Convoke (Each creature you tap while casting this spell reduces its cost by 1 or by one mana of that creature's color.)
Boiling Ballad deals 7 damage to each creature and each player.
If you paid no mana to cast Boiling Ballad, it deals 7 damage to each opponent and each creature an opponent controls instead.

KEN: This card is pretty epic. I thought, "Why does an Inferno have convoke?" Then it's got the all-upside for "going all the way." It would be even more obvious to say "If you tapped seven creatures to convoke CARDNAME" rather than check the amount of mana spent. I wish the card didn't kill my team in the "off" mode, though. This card reminds me of the "If X is 5 or more" mechanic I designed in Conflux.

AJ: I love this evolution of convoke—it reads as both natural and exciting. I appreciate your attention to detail by changing the original card from 6 damage to 7, to add symmetry with the cost. I only wish the wording flowed better, as having a second clause that cancels something in the first clause is awkward.

KD: I like this card, but it doesn't quite fit here. I don't want Mark to spend the first preview week talking about bringing back convoke, even with its new twist on display; he should be talking about the central theme of the set, which, from your description, I understand is token-making.

MR: In your intro you said that you wanted to use convoke in all five colors. Why? The coolest thing about convoke is it's a very nice mechanic that has a strong flavor tie. Creatures are working together. That sounds like the "good guys" but not the Horde. Usually the bad guys don't tend to work together as well as the good guys.

Now, you can turn that on its ear. Maybe the bad guys are the organized ones and the good guys are a rag tag bunch forced to band together. My point is that convoke should be used as a tool to convey something. Putting it everywhere waters down its ability to do that.

This is a long-winded way of saying that of every possible color to have convoke the two that seem the least likely to have it are black and red the "selfish" colors. The big question this card raises for me is what is convoke doing in the set? This card is saying "Look at me, I'm doing something new with convoke." What it's not saying is "Look at me, I'm helping you understand something about the world."

In a vaccum this card is okay. My biggest design issue with it is that it forces the convoke issue a little too much. In other words, other than desperate times, are you ever going to cast this with mana? The swing is so giant that you just feel like a schlump for not getting the full use out of it.

I find this card much more interesting, from a design sense, if it didn't have the rider. This way you feel good using the convoke because the creatures were going to die anyways. That said, I do like the twist on convoke and used properly, it can be a nice selling point for the set.

3. Serious Fun

Mirror-Faced Colossus (Rare)
Artifact Creature - Golem
Whenever Mirror-Faced Colossus attacks, each other attacking creature becomes a copy of it until end of turn.

KEN: Very nice! I'd try it more Gigantomancer, "Whenever CARDNAME attacks, each other attacking creature becomes 7/7 until end of turn." But that's nit-picky for a card that's by all means an excellent artifact creature rare design.

AJ: I love how this card reads. I get a little sad when I realize my other creatures will lose their inherent evasion abilities, but this wording captures a much better essence than simply "becomes 7/7" would, so I think it's a reasonable sacrifice.

KD: Turns a swarm of Saprolings into a stampede of 7/7s, and that is some Serious Fun. I do wish, though, that the creatures just became 7/7s, instead of becoming copies of one that is, at this point in the turn, essentially blank.

MR: I like the general design of this card. My gut is that 7/7 might be a little too high. You want to stick it at a place where sometimes it isn't just game over when Mirror-Faced Golem attacks. The lack of trample helps.

This is yet another card that feels like a cool card in a vacuum but it doesn't seem to do much to sell the feel of the set. You get a few random cool previews but most of them need to be filling in the audience on what to expect from the set.

I do understand that this card is playing into the "combat matters" part of your mechanics but the copying part steals focus from the "helps all attackers" part.

4. Limited Information

Valorous Charge (Common)
Creatures you control get +2/+0 until end of turn. If all creatures you control are attacking, creatures you control get +3/+1 until end of turn instead.

KEN: The cookie is weird. Perhaps +1/+1 and +2/+2? I was really hoping to see Copperhorn Scout here for its convoke shenanigans. It feels like forever since I've seen a common design. It wouldn't be a sin for your common to do just one thing instead of two.

AJ: Yes, the phrase "if all creatures you control are attacking" hasn't been printed before. My main problem? Zero or one creature(s) attacking satisfies it, which doesn't match the flavor implied in the phrase. I do feel like this card does a good job of using the phrase, however. This card does suffer from proposing an odd set of bonuses—I would've preferred +1/+1 and +2/+2.

KD: High potential power with an interesting restriction—a good Limited Information choice. However, it's problematic that its power depends to some degree on the number and quality of Pacifism, Dehydration, and Blinding Mage type effects are in the set, and that's something neither reader nor author will know on week one.

MR: This card does a much better job of selling "combat matters." The big problem is that you've spilled out of white's part of the color pie. White gets team boosting but it only gets it on the low end of the spectrum. At common, we only use +1/+1 and only at high rarities will you occasionally see +2/+2. The larger creature boosting is used in green. That is why cards like Overrun are green and not white.

Also, +N/+0 tends to be used more in black and red. White gets +N/+N or +0/+N. It will also get +N/+O where O is greater than N. +2/+0 makes this feel more like a red card.

If it was +1/+1 boosting into +2/+2 in a set where combat is a major focus allowing us to pull down a little from higher rarities, it could probably work. Be aware, though, that this is becoming one of your best common white spells. That's okay if it's the focus of your set. My big concern from above is: is that supposed to be your major focus?

5. Savor the Flavor

Restless Haven (Rare)
[Heart of the Forest (1A) -
Legendary Land
Restless Haven enters the battlefield tapped.
When you play Restless Haven, put a 1/1 green Elf creature token onto the battlefield.
T: Add G to your mana pool.
G, Tap two untapped Elves you control: Return Restless Haven to its owner's hand.

KEN: The huge error I see with this card is what I call the "legendary land" problem. Legendary lands are cards with supertype legendary and type land. No matter how appealing a legendary land is, when a player trades for four of them, shuffles up, and gets an opening hand with four of them, that player will find the legendary land forever less appealing.

Khalni Garden is strong as is. This land is trying to do more. Somehow it doesn't include a solution to its own legendary land problem. It's some kind of dude ranch thing. Development would be all over this card.

AJ: This card excites me, but mostly as a Spike salivating over a hard-to-destroy, endless source of card advantage. I'd make both abilities tap, both for symmetry and to increase "shields down" moments where the opponent can destroy it.

KD: This card may represent an important place in the story, but its mechanic—jumping back to your hand—has weird enough flavor that I wouldn't want the creative team to preview it.

MR: A very common issue with less experienced designers is to put too much on a card. This is a neat card with what I consider needless text included. For starters, The last ability is completely unnecesary. Magic has plenty of ways to bounce lands, some even as a cost (and that's not even getting into other things, such as flickering). If you want to make shenanagins with this land, it doesn't need to be built into the card. Also, losing some text will allow you to add some flavor text to explain why this land produces an elf.

Next, while I understand that you want this to be a legendary land for flavor reasons, the card really does not want the legendary restrictions. I would keep the flavor and ditch "legendary." Mirrodin (the original one) already set the precedent that non-legendary lands can refer to specific places (see artifacts lands).

Finally, just move this card down to uncommon. It will have a lot of relevance to Limited, especially if your token theme gets used.

6. Building on a Budget

Observation Point (Uncommon)
When Observation Point enters the battlefield, put three 1/1 blue Merfolk creature tokens onto the battlefield.
U, Tap an untapped Merfolk you control: Look at the top card of target player's library.
U, Sacrifice a Merfolk: Put the top card of target player's library into the graveyard.

KEN: I thought I might have misplaced this card from one of the enchantment blocks. With this, you get to create your own Merfolk Observer + Merrow Witsniper combos with the same card. OK, but I hope there's plenty of other cards that help Merfolk mill you to death in this block.

AJ: Nothing here is a deadly sin, but this card feels like it needs a bit of polish. It's a bit busy, especially for an uncommon—I'd expect a card to do two of these three things, but not all three. This card gives me three tokens, but the first activated ability doesn't stack, so I'm not really able to take advantage of all three tokens immediately.

KD: Whatever else it is, it's a boon to budget players. Hit!

MR: I do like how this cards gives a little insight into who the merfolk are. What I don't like is how much pain this card is going to be to play against. Cards that never let the opponent draw a good card are about as griefer-y as they get.

This is only heightened by the fact that the card doesn't even make you work for it. It just gives you all the pieces at once. What I like most is the enchantment that comes with three merfolk and lets you use them. I would just like what it lets you do not be this.

It's interesting that the need to be flavorful and explain the world are running head first into the need to make a card that's fun to play. The above card really gives me a sense of who the merfolk are, but I think it comes at too high a cost.

7. Top Decks

Liliana, the Lost (Mythic Rare)
Planeswalker - Liliana
+1: Put any number of target cards from your graveyard onto the bottom of your library. Put that many cards from the top of your library into the graveyard.
-X: Put X 1/1 black Zombie creature tokens onto the battlefield.
0: Destroy each permanent with a converted mana cost equal to the number of loyalty counters on Liliana.

KEN: So weird. She's got the Ratchet Bomb for 3 sorcery option, or you can fiddle with her to get a strobing Ratchet Bomb on 1 / 2 / 4 / 5. Three-drop planeswalkers have the problem that you can't write anything sexy on them. Their plus has to basically do nothing in your favor, like this one. I'd much rather start planeswalkers in four- to six-drop space so we can put much sexier abilities on them, especially ultimates.

AJ: I summon a powerful planeswalker to help me ... dredge? The first ability makes no sense to me. It doesn't do anything on it's own, fit with anything you've shown me in the block, or even set up Liliana's other two abilities. The third ability does have an elegance in how it can destroy Liliana, but that's only at three loyalty—I'd be worried about repetetive game play with this stuck on one or two against a weenie deck. Not working against the block's token theme feels like a drawback to me, not a benefit.

KD: This is a scary-efficient planeswalker that evokes memories of Pernicious Deed—all fine qualities for a Top Decks preview card—and I think this would be a really interesting article.

MR: I'll start by saying that I'm excited that you used an existing planeswalker. I like the first ability in that its quirky and it seems like it might be setting something up for the other abilities. Then I look at it and see that it's not.

The second ability makes Zombie tokens. You'd think this would be a wonderful place to take advanatge that the turns before you've added new cards to the graveyard. "-X: Remove X cards from target graveyard and make X 2/2 Zombies." (A quick aside: most Zombie tokens have traditionally been 2/2 not 1/1.) Now the second ability means something with the first.

In a vacuum, I like the third ability. It just doesn't feel like it belongs on this card. (Her inability to kill the token creatures is not much synergy.) Also planeswalkers want ultimate abilities and this has second ability written all over it. I suggest ditching the third ability and replacing it with some cool effect that takes advantage of either the first or second (or, if possible, both) abilities.

I have no idea what these abilities have to do with Liliana's role in the story but I'll admit it's hard for a planeswalker to pull off.

8. From the Lab

Sigurd the Second (Mythic Rare)
[Unnamed -
Legendary Creature - Human Soldier
At the beginning of your end step, if you control fewer than seven creatures, put a 1/1 white Soldier creature token onto the battlefield. Repeat this process until you control seven creatures.

KEN: OK. My personal preference for legendary creatures is that they do something unique that other cards don't do. Ideally they don't stack, so you feel okay having just one of them on the battlefield. Kind of like this card.

AJ: This ability is very exciting and unique. Great card.

KD: Low-hanging fruit, but not in a bad way. This article would be fun.

MR: "Creatures matter," "Combat matters," "The Blight matters?" This set has a little bit of an identity problem. You have a lot of elements that kind of go together but I don't feel as if you have a mechanical vision of what is supposed to be the core idea.

This set feels like you had a cool idea for the set and then added things that made sense in the world. That's not good enough. You have to design things that don't just exist in the world but help define the world. You currently have a mechanical identity problem, one which you are going to have to start solving. (Luckily, the first challenge will force you to figure this out.)

I like this card. My worry is not with the design but rather with what the card forces players to do. This card makes people want to use their creatures as some kind of resource. Sure, attacking with them is one way to whittle them down so you can regrow them, but sacrificing them for effect is even better.

I feel as if this card is going to end up creating an evironment that is the opposite of what you want it to do. You want to create an army and it's going to most likely be used to create sacrifice fodder.

The change I would suggest is allowing it to make a certain number of creatures each turn. Don't cap it at seven. Use the card to truly grow an army rather than keep them at a locked number. Now, your "overhwleming the opponent through combat" is more attractive than just using them as sarcfice fodder.

9. The Week That Was

Library Raid (Uncommon)
Look at the top X cards of your library, put one into your hand and the rest on the bottom of your library in any order, where X is the number of tapped creatures you control.

KEN: Sure. Rewarding tapped creatures is a reasonably noble pursuit for cards to pursue.

AJ: This card wouldn't make my deck, let alone encourage me to attack. The best case scenario isn't exciting enough to balance out the risk of it sitting dead in my hand. If you wanted to encourage attacking on a crowded board, you have to at least make it an instant, or my creatures might all be dead before this spell can be cast. That all said, I appreciate what you were trying to do here, and it's a fine "bad card" to tempt worse players, but it's not a good way to preview this "mechanic."

KD: This card reads like a long walk for a small drink of water, and a deck showcasing it doesn't seem like it would be that interesting. I doubt I would assign this as a preview card.

MR: Caring about tapped creatures is a cute way to reinforce "combat matters." I sense that you're thinking of heading down the Lorwyn merfolk path where Merfolk tap and then like being tapped. A little might be okay, but Lorwyn taught us that too much can create complex and unfun board states.

10. Latest Developments

Aphid Trailblazer (Uncommon)
Creature - Insect
Swarm (Whenever this creature attacks, it gets +1/+1 until end of turn for each other attacking creature.)
Front Line (This creature must be blocked if able.)

KEN: Oftentimes blocks need a creature mechanic to convey story and setting; a combat mechanic like swarm can do that heavy-lifting. However, with convoke and swarm, tapped creatures matter, and more, it seems there's a never-ending well of upside for flooding the table with creatures. If that's what all colors want to do every game, players will quickly find out it's all turn one: Khalni Garden, turn two: Dragon Fodder to win games and not much else. We build our sets deeper than this—the Selesnya tribe was truly a token/swarm guild, but it was one of ten guilds in a block. I'm not seeing the other nine game play options this block encourages.

AJ: Swarm is a solid ability, and can be made relevant in both Constructed and Limited—something many combat mechanics have trouble with. I assume you've keyworded Front Line to tell me that it will show up on several more cards; I agree that it's a good mechanic to help clear boards, but I'm not convinced it's worth a keyword.

KD: This one's a miss for me. The two different new keywords may work well together on the battlefield, but they make writing a preview article harder by splitting the focus. This card is also just a little uninspiring generally.

MR: First a piece of advice to all the applicants. I strongly urge you not to keyword things that we do often but don't currently keyword. It makes your set feel more complex than it is for no real gain. (Yes, there is a lot of advantage to keywording things, but it comes at a cost, one that is hard to see.)

I'm sort of lukewarm on the swarm mechanic. It's okay, but it's somewhat limiting. To maximize it, you have to be able to attack with a bunch of creatures and usually when you can do that you're in a pretty good position already. I also worry because the mechanic wants you to get a whole bunch of swarm creatures. However, I don't think this is a mechanic you're going to want to put on a lot of creatures.

I'm not saying that you can't use swarm, but if you do, you're going to have to massage some of the design around it. As you'll see in a minute, I think that's going to be a harder task than you might realize.

As swarm creatures go, this one is nicely designed.

I created super convoke (as Ive been calling it) mostly as: do A; if you paid nothing, do A twice. I love that Boiling Ballad (by NixorX) is a two-sided effect upgrades to one-sided and that the card has plenty of utility even if when it isnt upgraded.

I latched onto charleycs Valorous Charge for how uniquely it rewards attacking. I contemplated shifting it into red, but only ended up making one small tweak (so it would read better).

Sigurd the Second was designed by Skibo the First with "Other soldiers you control get +1/+1." It excited my inner Johnny, so I scrapped the power boosting part to allow the focus to be a creature that "brings his/her own army."

Restless Haven (by KhelArk) started with a tap ability that generated elves, but my favorite part was that it could bounce itself so I asked KhelArk if the generation could be triggered. The card evoked in me images of an Elven city that disappears when you look away, which I figured would make cool, showcaseable flavor.

Swarm and raid are both answers to the question, "How do you encourage attacking on a crowded board?"

Observation Point was created to highlight blue's espionage-style warfare.

Mirrorface was designed as a hole filler.

Liliana doubly fits the set theme because her Pernicious Deed ability can't destroy tokens. Her starting loyalty is deliberately matched to her converted mana cost so she self destructs if used immediately.

KEN: We sometimes talk of the "booster pack experience" of a set. Alara Reborn's top-line theme was indeed an "all gold" booster pack experience. Proposing two token cards per pack as part of the "booster pack experience" has huge costs—does the second token replace the basic land? A common? Or are boosters sixteen cards now? This designer is surely naïve to the cost-of-goods increase of adding a 16th card to booster packs. Maybe the 16th card fits in the wrapping, maybe the thirty-six boosters still fit in the booster display box, maybe six boxes still fit in a case, and so on ... but it certainly raises our production costs. What about the resulting price increase of booster packs? Are we that inefficient as a business that a 16th card would "just fit?"

Will players love a second token creature enough to swallow a price increase? In the more realistic scenario, when does a battlefield littered with pennies, nickels, and dime token creatures turn from epic to annoying?

Despite this designer's notable Timmy cards, there are physical aspects to our physical game that need a reality check.

Hightlight: Mirror-Faced Colossus
Lowlight: Legendary Land

AJ: "Crumbling world?" We've seen things in the apolcalyptic genre, but this specific variant is very intruiging. "Total war?" Boring, and we've definitely seen that a million times before.

Your mechanical flavor seems like it focuses too much on "raising armies"—something inherent to Magic—and not enough on the unique flavor your set could have. I'm very worried about the proliferation of token types you've proposed, from a logistical perspective, although I appreciate the nod towards two tokens in a pack.

At least from my judgament, your proposed flavor has a lot of potential, and your token-based theme has a lot of potential, but the combination leaves me in the generic "armies" and "war" mind space that we've seen far too many times before. You'll probably have to adjust in one direction or the other to make it through to the end.

KD: These cards display a very solid understanding of the columns and their needs, but the salesmanship end is lacking. My advice when you're trying to sell your set—and this goes for inside R&D as well as to the outside world—is to 1) show the highlights and 2) paint a solid, coherent picture of the set's contents and game play.

MR: Shawn, you have a lot of good ideas. One could argue you have too many. What is this set about? Your mechanical focus right now seems to concentrate on caring about combat, but that doesn't really line up with your overall flavor.

As I said above, I find the coolest part of your story to be the Blight. Your protagonist and antagonist seem to be about that story as well, yet your set is very focsued on all the fighting the existence of the Blight is causing.

If you want your set to be about the conflict between the Horde and the "good guys" (seriously, name them for the next challenge), then your story has to change. If the mechanical heart of your set is about the fight then the focus of your world is that fight. If you don't want to focus on the Blight then push back its importance.

I wouldn't do that though because the story you have is what got me to put you into the Top 8. A world falling apart is an awesome block idea. You have to find a way to make your mechanics care about it. What does it mechanically mean? What impact does it have?

Translate your ideas into actual cards and mechanics. This doesn't mean the focus on conflict can't be there but it can't have the amount of focus you're putting on it. Caring about combat can be fun. Only caring about combat isn't.

What I want to see for next week is for you to figure out how to take what is special about your world and actually show it to me on cards.

Latest Feature Articles


January 24, 2022

Where to Find Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty Previews by, Wizards of the Coast

It's time for Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty previews! To help our readers and preview seekers, we've created this handy guide to preview season. January 27 at 9 AM PST is when everything begins...

Learn More


January 21, 2022

Boseiju Reaches Skyward by, Emily Teng

In the heart of Towashi is Boseiju, the oldest living tree on Kamigawa and the only remnant of Jukai Forest left within city limits. Boseiju Reaches Skyward | Art by: Zezhou Chen At th...

Learn More



Feature Archive

Consult the archives for more articles!

See All