The Great Designer Search 2 Finalists

Posted in Feature on November 24, 2010

By Staff

Devon Rule

Your Name: Devon Rule
Your Set Name: Utopia
Your updated logline: A once-peaceful world adapts itself for war.

MR: I think you went a little too basic with your logline. I like the overall feel you're going for but I would like to see a little more detail.

Your commons:
CB01 – Industrial Spy
Creature - Goblin Mercenary

KEN: A "Fetch me." Could probably be worse and still make it into Mercenary decks.

MR: Simple and flavorful. The submissions this week could use more of this.

CB02 – Accountant
Creature - Human Advisor
B, T: Gain a gold counter. (Gold counters can be spent as colorless mana or life payments.)

KEN: The gold mechanic is a place we might go. Generating resources that no cards in the game can disrupt can be dangerous, on a little dork it's more adorable than dangerous.

MT: So, let's chat about gold counters. Amusingly, Eldrazi Spawn creature tokens from the Rise of the Eldrazi set started out very similar to gold counters. The problem is that, except for power- and toughness-modifying counters, we don't usually give counters inherent rules meaning, except in the context of specific abilities. You might unknowingly be asking for a major rules change wherein the payment of N life to pay a cost is changed into a payment of life and/or gold counters totaling N, which is completely bizarre. I'd have to spend more time than I have available analyzing what replacing part of a cost in this manner means.

MR: Last week you showed off peaceful red. This week we get to meet peaceful black. My biggest strike against gold is that it is very reminiscent of spawn tokens from Rise of the Eldrazi. I do appreciate the flavor and the ability to pay for life does allow you to make some easy connections to other black cards. While you're not judged on names, I do believe if you layered the actual world flavor it would make this guy feel more like a Magic creature. Overall though, I like the gold mechanic even if it needs some more tinkering.

CB03 – Tavern Sellsword
[Simple Mercenary by Guy Srinivasan - Labs:Gds/gds2/Utopia/CommonGround/Submissions]
Creature - Human Mercenary

KEN: Kind of vanilla, but has a tag to make it not vanilla.

MR: Where does Guy Srinivasan come up with stuff like this? I'm glad to see the designers put vanilla creatures in their sets. Now if we could just get more French vanilla and simple, nontexty ones.

CB04 – Rental Imp
Pay 1 life, T: Search your library for a Mercenary permanent card with converted mana cost 1 or less and put it onto the battlefield. Then shuffle your library.

KEN: So powerful. Repeated shuffling at common, but it might stop after a couple uses. At least life means you can cast your other cards, whereas Rebels simply dropped lands and didn't cast spells the rest of the game.

MR: I'm torn on the return of Mercenaries. On the plus side, the flavor is dead on and it allows life payments that make a lot of sense. It also played well. On the minus side, I'm not a big fan of bringing back mechanics that were unpopular the first time around. You did at least pick the one that wasn't broken. (Rebels—I'm looking at you.)

The other big problem with mercenaries stems with R&D's current stance on shuffling, or what Ken calls "load screens." We understand that some shuffling has to happen but we try to keep it to an absolute minimum. As such, we tend to shy away from mechanics that require shuffling.

CB05 – Smuggler
Creature - Human Rogue Mercenary
When Smuggler deals combat damage to a player, gain 2 gold counters. (Gold counters can be spent as colorless mana or life payments.)

KEN: The Scroll Thief stats look weird on a black common, but ok.

MR: The one weird thing about gold that I didn't mention above is that it bleeds an ability not normally associated with black—production of colorless mana. In color, blue's the most likely one to get it, but as Rise showed, we are willing to bleed this into black.

CB06 – Ghoul Messengers
Creature - Zombie Mercenary
Pay 2 life, T: Search your library for a Mercenary permanent card with converted mana cost 2 or less and put it onto the battlefield. Then shuffle your library.

KEN: So strong. Wondering if this needs the swampwalk ability. Black mirrors will fight over this creature.

MR: This was obviously either or . I think you got it right doing only two mercenaries.

CB07 - Giant Cockroach
Creature - Insect

KEN: A true vanilla. Often a better blocker than attacker against green.

MR: Have the insects and rats run wild in the world of chaos? I'm not sure exactly what the flavor is, but I'm intrigued. Traditionally we tend to only do one vanilla creature per color (yes, there are exceptions). I would have made either this or CB03 a French vanilla. This might be the only time this week where I tell a candidate that their card could have been more complicated.

CB08 – Elite Houseguard
[Big Mercenary by by Guy Srinivasan - Labs:Gds/gds2/Utopia/CommonGround/Submissions]
Creature - Vampire Mercenary

KEN: This is above and beyond the call of duty for vanilla-ness.

MR: Maybe you can have two vanilla creatures but you definitely don't want three. This should have been a French vanilla or even possibly a creature with a one-line ability (what we call a "one-liner").

CB09 – Vault Shade
[Yet Another Greedy Shade by Daniel - Labs:Gds/gds2/Utopia/CommonGround/Submissions]
Creature - Shade
2: Vault Shade gets +1/+1 until end of turn.
Pay 2 life: Vault Shade gains flying until end of turn.

KEN: The gold counters-payment matters engineered card. Might read a little too poopy to me, but ok.

MR: I like this card. It has a little bit of pizzazz but not at the sake of complication. The fact that it only improves itself is good. Also, you were good about keeping your creatures to 50%.

CB10 – Extortion
[Twisted Vision by Havelock Vetinari - Labs:Gds/gds2/Utopia/Holes]
Choose a card type other than land. Target opponent reveals their hand. You choose a card of the chosen type from it. That player discards that card.

KEN: I'm guessing this is from Episode 1, where it got good comments.

MR: One of my favorite things about your cards this week is that you really made commons. You found simple but interesting effects that made sense in your set. While this sounds easy, it is not. In fact, it's the area where most designers fell short this week.

CB11 – Graverobbing
Return target creature card from your graveyard to your hand. You may pay 3 life. If you do, return another target creature from your graveyard to your hand.

KEN: Not sure this actually works. Life kicker is probably ok, but be careful all your cards read like they kill you. Tons of players don't like killing themselves in real life or when they play games.

MT: It's unlikely this card would survive for very long, as it's essentially a kicker card. Moving the choice of whether to pay 3 life to the effect means you have to be able to target two creature cards to even cast the spell.

MR: I like your various uses of life payments. You also learned that when you have an upgraded effect you keep it simple so the card is easy to process.

CB12 – Scary Reputation
[by Kallisti - Labs:Gds/gds2/Utopia/CommonGround/Submissions]
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant creature
Enchanted creature gains intimidate
Sacrifice Scary Reputation: Enchanted creature gets +3/+0 until end of turn.

KEN: Got through. Take 3 more! Some tension but probably the good kind.

MR: Two comments. First, I would put a mana activation on this card so there are moments where you opponent doesn't have to do the math. Second, I think +2/+0 would have been fine, but +3/+0 pushes the card a little more than I'd want for a common.

CB13 – Business Venture
Draw a card. If you have any gold counters, draw another card.

KEN: Reads like a blue card. I suggest moving it to blue.

MR: You fell to the temptation that all the designers did. The "look what I can do" temptation with your new mechanic. Yes, you can make cards that care about you having gold, but I wouldn't put them at common and maybe not even in the first set. The major reason for this is that this card refers to something that it doesn't explain. Yes we do that, but we try to keep it out of common to minimize when it happens.

In addition, card drawing in black is supposed to come with some payment usually life. This seems like a spot where you could have gotten another very natural life payment in.

CB14 – Snuff Out
If you control a Swamp, you may pay 4 life rather than pay Snuff Out's mana cost.
Destroy target nonblack creature. It can't be regenerated.

KEN: This is an extremely powerful card to reprint. We like doing that sometimes, but we more pop from it in core sets than expert sets. We usually don't print anti-regenerate clauses anymore. Maybe it's ok, but I'm skeptical.

MR: I like your reprint, but I wouldn't have put it at common. Barring sets that focus on it, alt costs are kept out of common. In my playtest I had the "Swamps tapped but two gold in my possession" moment where I paid off the assassin to take out Aaron's threatening creature.

CB15 – Plagiarize
[Brain Drain by Havelock Vetinari - Labs:Gds/gds2/Utopia/CommonGround/Submissions]
Target player discards two cards. They lose two life and you gain two life.

KEN: I suggest not naming cards with existing card names especially for when I talk about a game where I played Snuff Out and Plagiarize.

MR: This card seemed like you had a good card and then couldn't stop. They discard two cards and lose 2 life would have been fine. You draining on top of the discard took what could have felt like an elegant card and made it a little crowded.

CB16 – Reckless Looting
[Ransack by Shdwcat, Dig for Gold by Demons, altered at suggestion of Braman - Labs:Gds/gds2/Utopia/CommonGround/Submissions]
Destroy target creature or land. Gain 2 gold counters. (Gold counters can be spent as colorless mana or life payments.)

KEN: We make these Drain the Well cards often.

MR: I think I would have liked this spell with just the creature kill. We've been very careful about limiting land destruction at common (and yes, we do still do it occasionally) and this card doesn't seem like it needed it. I kill you and take your money feels pretty flavorful.

CB17 – Energy Drain
[I Can't Believe They Haven't Printed This by Havelock Vetinari - Labs:Gds/gds2/Utopia/CommonGround/Submissions]
Target creature gets -X/-X until end of turn.

KEN: Great!

MR: I already made this note on the last applicant who used it. Not a huge fan as I don't like spells at common, but it does serve your set well. I would have put it at uncommon but there are R&D members who would have fought for common.

CB18 – Hoard
Gain X gold counters. (Gold counters can be spent as colorless mana or life payments.)

KEN: Iceberg! Hoarding resources that can't be disrupted like this is probably too dangerous, though.

MR: If you were going to have one spell at common, I'd choose this over CB17. This definitely feels like something you want in at least uncommon.

I was very happy with how clear the feedback was on my previous submission, including an explicit assignment for this week. If I had wanted to submit the best selection of Utopian commons I could, I would have gone with red. However, I needed to show that I could innovate and hit more than one note of my theme. I chose to focus tightly on a "commerce" theme for black, using mercenaries, gold, and payments to bring this across mechanically.

Unlike their Rebel counterparts, Mercenaries were not very popular, so nostalgia was not a large factor in my decision to use them. Rather, I felt that the concept of "hiring for money" was resonant enough to stand on its own. Life payments are usually less popular with new players, but I felt that factor added to the appeal of gold counters by letting players "cheat" their way out of losing life. While I wanted to focus on the life payment side of Gold counters, I also made sure that there were several useful places to spend piles of colorless mana at common.

Utopia was intended to be a thematic set concept rather than a publishable title, but I'm quite proud of my new logline. The set was always meant to be more about adaptation than paradise.

Many thanks to Havelock Vetinari, Pojo, Daniel, Shdwcat, Kallisti, Guy Srinivasan, and all the other people who helped with the submission.

KEN: We've got Mercenaries paid in gold, vanilla city, and life payments galore. Watch out for too much repeated shuffling, the idiot moment of paying life to get nothing, and undisruptable resources. I'm imagining gold counters being in multiple colors, but which ones I'll have to wait to see. A strong submission.

Highlight: Accountant
Lowlight: Elite Houseguard

AF: When I first sat down to play with your cards, I read the Accountant and immediately thought of our first implementation of Eldrazi Spawn in Rise of the Eldrazi, which were out-of-play "mana crystals" that could be spent on colorless mana. Then I saw a Mercenary fetcher. "Oh boy," I thought, "a cross between bad Rise of the Eldrazi and Mercadian Masques. This is going to suck."

It didn't suck. Your new resource fit in very well with how Magic normally plays (granted, there is still some management to be done that can be a bit mentally taxing at times, but often in a fun way). I liked the "merchant" feel—definitely an underrepresented side of black—and paying my Mercenaries in gold was precious. Snuff Out was a clever reprint choice, although it was a bit weird that gold could reduce either the mana or life payment, often to the same effect.

It's too bad that Mercenaries have such a negative stigma attached to them, as those kind of things lead R&D to have a much higher bar for bringing them back. I can tell from your templates that you're thinking of using the Tribal type in the set, but I'd rather you didn't if at all possible. That mechanic, while conceived with the best intentions, is generally considered a bit of a failed experiment, and bringing it back on a couple cards in Rise of the Eldrazi probably wasn't a wise choice.

I'm interested in seeing if other colors in your set fit together with the themes of black at all, or if they're each their own microcosm. I hope it's the former. Top half for sure!

MT: Devon, once we got gold counters out of the way, your other cards were pretty straightforward. Unfortunately, gold counters played a pretty significant part of your design challenge. They were effective in portraying the commercial aspect of your world, but they're not a good fit with how costs are paid. The kicker encroachment on Graverobbing was unfortunate, but without the rider it can be made into a fine common card.

MR: Devon, this was my second favorite submission of the week. Your cards played well and definitely created a cool feel to them. I have two big notes for you. First, while I like the little sandbox you created for common black, I don't understand how it plays into the larger conflict. I get that this is what black did when the world was at peace, but isn't it at war now? I didn't get the sense of war or of a conflict. For next week, I want you to give me a better sense of the overall set rather than just a small pocket. I don't quite get what your block's conflict is. I don't know where it's going or what you're doing to set it up.

Second, I'm worried your getting a little too "bio-dome." That's R&D speak for a set that plays nicely with itself but doesn't mix easily with other cards. For example, if you want to play the gold and Mercenary game, you can do that with your cards. But how many of your commons can you just take and throw into a deck? In other words, you are getting both linear and parasitic which makes for a fun Limited environment, but keeps you from making a set that can have broad appeal for Constructed.

All in all, though, you had an excellent week. Congrats!

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