The Great Designer Search 2 Finalists

Posted in Feature on November 24, 2010

By Staff

Daniel Williams


Disparate factions struggle to survive in a wild frontier filled with outlaws, violence, and death

MR: Violence and death? I think if your logline can convey Magic in a western setting, you get outlaws and violence (with death thrown in) for free. I think you want to center on words that get across Western. "Frontier" and "outlaw" are the best words you have in this logline. Look for more.

Howling Coyote
Creature- Coyote
Reveal a card from your hand: If the card you revealed is red, target creature can't block this turn.

KEN: I played Frenzied Goblin in the only Pro Tour I was invited to. This card wipes the floor with Frenzied Goblin. None of your opponent's creatures can block while this is on the battlefield? Also, it attacks for 1.

Obscure small bonus—it can reveal your revelation cards infinitely at will.

This isn't good game play. Creatures have gotten better and better, so blocking has gotten better and better. If Panic Spellbomb is good enough for Standard, this card should be once a turn or an attack trigger.

MT: The rules surrounding revealing cards from your hand are a little murky, and basing your major mechanics on them is a risky move. Can you reveal an already revealed card to pay a cost? Yes, but will players get that? It's very weird. Also, and this is more of a development note than a rules one, with this creature and a red card in your hand, no creature can ever block again.

MR: If I have a red card in my hand, my opponent can never block me? I'm pretty sure that isn't what you intended. Limiting use to once per turn seems like the obvious choice. Another meta-issue to figure out is how easy are you trying to make revealing a card. Cards like this make it very easy. At bare minimum I would change the reveal cost to having to reveal a red card. I think this card should enable revealing but not remove all challenge to do so.

Marauding Bandits
Creature- Human Rogue
Whenever Marauding Bandits attacks, reveal a card from your hand. If you reveal a red card this way, Marauding Bandits deals 1 damage to each player.

KEN: This guy played okay. He gives revelation a reason to exist. However, it sure gets annoying looking at the same card your opponent reveals every turn.

MT: This card is a simple execution of a reveal trigger, which seems to work fine.

MR: Once again, you seem to want to let players reveal cards whenever they want instead of making such a thing a challenge to do. Make this reveal a red card and then it only works with red cards that want to be revealed. I do like that you restrict it to triggering on attack so it forces the player to make a decision rather than allow them to just do it whenever they want.

Another odd choice here is that the reveal is mandatory. Let's say I have one card in my hand and I don't want you to know it. It's odd that this creature forces me to show it to you if I want to attack. The revealing of a card really should only be when the controller wants to show you a card.

Finally, I'm not sure why this has to hit everyone. Why not just hit opponents? It makes the card so much more attractive for many players.

Spellslinger Outlaw
Creature-Human Rogue
When Spellslinger Outlaw enters the battlefield, have a showdown with target creature's controller or target opponent. If you win, Spellslinger Outlaw deals 2 damage to that creature or player. (Each player in the showdown draws a card. Then each of those players simultaneously discards a card from his or her hand. A player wins if the card he or she discarded had a higher converted mana cost.)

KEN: I find the showdown mechanic much improved from its previous incarnation (Reveal our hands, total CMC wins). The procedure to do this, though defined, is murky enough that it doesn't translate perfectly from the card text (we say we are discarding "this" card, then actually discard them).

MT: Showdown is a good example of how the rules text and reminder text of an ability can differ. The rules text is something along the lines of "each player draws a card, then discards a card. A player wins the showdown if that player discarded a card with a higher converted mana cost than all other cards discarded in that showdown." But, the reminder text (and FAQ) has to make it clear how it actually works: active player draws a card, nonactive player draws a card, active player chooses a card to discard, nonactive player chooses a card to discard, and then both cards are discarded simultaneously. It's a lot of work (and text) to communicate this procedure clearly to players.

MR: I have a very mixed opinion of showdown. The right-brain designer in me appreciates the artistry of the design. In fact, every time it would happen in the playtest, I always would say "Okay ... draw." You've done an excellent job in creating a mechanic that captures the essence of gunslinging.

Then there's left-brain designer. He's realizes that what you've done is make a glorified clash. You allowed the player to have more control but you also allowed the chance for them to choose to card disadvantage themselves. (Yeah, "effective card disadvantage.") I really wanted to like this mechanic but playing it turned into "am I going to do what the card wants me to do or am I actually going to try and win the game?"

If you want to salvage this mechanic (and the right answer might be to find another way to capture the gunslinging feel you want), you are going to have to find a way to keep it from being a mechanic that punishes the guy who plays along.

Avoiding the showdown issue, I actually like this card. It was the one card where we actually tended to fight over the showdown.

Viashino Sandscout
[Viashino Sandscout- Urza's Legacy]
Creature- Viashino Scout
At the beginning of the end step, return Viashino Sandscout to its owner's hand.

KEN: This is a well-positioned reprint to have a red card in your hand lots of the time. Maybe a Glimmerfang would be an even better choice. Glimmerfang has tons of fans.

MR: This is a fine repeat. I assume you like that it helps keep a red card in your hand for revealing purposes and is a Viashino.

Loose Steer
Creature- Aurochs
Loose Steer must attack each turn if able.
Whenever Loose Steers attacks, it gets +1/+0 until end of turn for each other attacking Aurochs.

KEN: This might not want the "must attack" clause if you're going to be collecting these in a draft. Sequentially casting 2-toughness creatures that must attack are prone to dying before you can amass a large number of them on the battlefield.

MR: This card caused a lot of laughs in playtest. I like the flavor and it played decently.

Viashino War Priest 1rr
Creature- Viashino Shaman
When Sand Tribe War Priest enters the battlefield, have a showdown with target opponent. If you win, Sand Tribe War Priest gets +3/+0 and gains haste until end of turn. (Each player in the showdown draws a card. Then each of those players simultaneously discards a card from his or her hand. A player wins if the card he or she discarded had a higher converted mana cost.)

KEN: Trample seems unnecessary here.

MR: With my caveat about showdown out of the way, I kind of like this card. My biggest problem with it was that I often didn't have any reason to want to want to "kick" it. If the card had some kind of evasion, I'd be a little more motivated to win the showdown.

Sandtribe Raiders
[Waste Scavengers-]
Creature- Viashino Warrior
Retaliate- At the beginning of each player's end step, if a creature you control was destroyed this turn, put a 1/1 red Viashino Warrior creature token onto the battlefield.

KEN: So, he makes tokens. And if a token dies, he makes that token again? Something seems fishy here.

MR: Let me start by talking about retaliate. In general I like the mechanic, both because it's flavorful and because it can lead to some interesting choices with other cards in play. This particular card I have an issue with because it's not common. We are very careful about what effects that trigger every turn that we allow at common. Ones that make creature tokens are mostly put in uncommon or higher.

Swooping Thunderbird
Creature- Elemental Bird
Haste, Flying
Revelation- Whenever Swooping Thunderbird is revealed from your hand by a spell or ability, you may pay R. If you do, target creature you control has gains haste until end of turn.

KEN: What an efficient clock for a common. If your common red flyer hits as hard and fast as Kuldotha Phoenix, what do you print on your red rares?! Red common flyers are usually dinky like Goblin Balloon Brigade or Bird Maiden. Supremely efficient red common flyers make me wonder what's blue creature's avenue of attack.

The revelation ability seems OK.

I like trying this at without flying, syncs it up better.

MT: Ah, the mindbender. I wish I had more time to really think about this card, but the nature of our show means you get judged a lot on first impressions. And my first impression here is that we don't want to print things like this. It puts enormous pressure on "reveal" as a vocabulary word. The phrase "is revealed" should really be "becomes revealed." Let's start with the basics: will players understand that a discarded card is not "revealed," for example. Showdown sure looks like a reveal is involved somewhere. (It isn't.) Consider Telepathy. Swooping Thunderbird would trigger when Telepathy entered the battlefield, and then what?

MR: Common red tends to have very few flyers. In fact, when red common gets a flyer it is usually weak and only has 1 or 2 power. The reason for this is that red is the second worst color at flying (green being the worst) and we represent that by not giving red good flyers at low rarities. The only good flyers we tend to give red are dragons, and those are almost always done at rare and mythic rare.

This card does not need the revelation rider. Speaking of revelation, let's talk about the mechanic. As Matt has explained, you are playing in, metaphorically, a warehouse filled with dynamite. There are definitely things you can do with revealing cards, but cards that trigger when they are revealed is tricky at best. Read carefully what Matt has told you.

Revelation aside, I like that this card's revelation effect ties into the card you get when you cast it. I also like how it's a cheap effect you get to use while waiting to cast the more expensive spell. Haste granting should always be cheap so good job on that as well.

Crystalline Ritual
Add RRR to your mana pool. This mana cannot be spent to cast spells.

KEN: This seems like a cruel joke or a disaster waiting to happen. Other red commons can't use this mana (You can't spend this mana on Fiery Deadeye because this is a sorcery). I sure was expecting to see a firebreather somewhere for this. The chance this does something sick in Constructed is high. Fast mana is probably the mechanic R&D has nerfed the hardest since Dark Ritual stopped being printed and Rite of Flame was considered regrettable. There is extremely narrow "fun" space for a ritual to exist in.

MR: I'd put this card at uncommon as we tend to do our rituals there. Depending on the set perhaps it could make sense at common but your set doesn't feel like it justifies it right now. Other than that, I like it. (Note: I'm a designer; odds are this card would make developers nervous.)

Unearthly Reflexes
Up to two target creatures gain first strike until end of turn.

KEN: A good old-fashioned Kindled Fury, Thunder Strike, or Slaughter Cry would serve better here. This card will never add damage like a red card. It's hard to get into a situation where two surprise first strikes will matter instead of just one.

MR: I agree with Ken that you probably don't need two targets but I feel this is a nice and relatively simple combat effect. Good job.

Burning Hatred
Burning Hatred deals 2 damage to target creature or player.
Retaliate- If a creature your control was destroyed this turn, Burning Hatred deals 5 damage to that creature or player instead.

KEN: That's a big jump in reward. This would be dangerous if there's a Mogg Fanatic running around with it. But otherwise, I like it enough.

MR: A tweak on "Deal 2, conditionally deal 4." I like it. I also think retaliate plays better on spells, especially at common.

Fiery Deadeye
Enchant creature
Enchanted creature has "R: This creature deals 1 damage to target creature blocking it."

KEN: This is a little bit weird. It doesn't make your creature hit any harder or better, it downgrades your opponent's trading into chumping. I guess it makes your guy into a gatling gun if anyone stands in the way. Still, I think there's something here.

MR: I like it. It played well in our playtests.

Reckless Prospecting
Draw 2 cards, then discard a card at random.

KEN: We've discussed moving looting (or a subset or various forms of looting) to red, and this is one of multiple submissions that have looting in red.

MR: As Ken said, the GDS2 essays have prompted R&D to talk about whether we should move some part of filtering into red. I'm in the "yes" camp. The only change I'd make to this card, with that in mind, is I don't think you need the discard to be random. Yes, it matches the flavor but I believe it makes for less fun game play. (Although, if you're forcing random discard I prefer when you do it to yourself.)

Viashino War Cry
Target attacking creature gets +2/+0 until end of turn. Have a showdown with the defending player. If you win, that creature gains intimidate until end of turn. (Each player in the showdown draws a card. Then each of those players simultaneously discards a card from his or her hand. A player wins if the card he or she discarded had a higher converted mana cost.)

KEN: I'm not convinced a totally different bonus has merit here. There's probably a simpler card to be made here with +1/+0 jump to +2/+0 here. Even if game play suffers, there's a simplicity goal, too.

MR: The biggest strike against this card is how often the showdown was completely worthless. I also found the fact that I had to attack before I knew if my creature was unblockable to be a bit awkward. Playtest tidbit: Aaron once cast on his own creature at the end of my turn just to see a new card.

Mob's Verdict
Mob's Verdict deals damage to target creature equal to the number of creatures you control.

KEN: I like it.

MR: Simple and useful. I like it too.

Fiery Totem
You may reveal a red card from your hand. If you do, put an X/1 red Elemental creature token with haste onto the battlefield, where X is the converted mana cost of the spell you revealed this way. Exile it at the beginning of the next end step.

KEN: There's underpinnings of fun here. Heartlash Cinder can in some cases hit for 10, but any untapped creature solves him. However, there's so much weirdness on other cards I don't think you can do this. Has this designer tried Scent of Cinder? Perhaps that's too mono-red matters, but I'd try something like that here instead of Fiery Totem.

MR: We would probably do this card at uncommon for a bunch of little reasons. We tend to avoid using "converted mana cost" at common and we tend to avoid X variables at common when we can avoid it.

Gatling Volley
Gatling Volley deals 4 damage to target player.
Revelation- Whenever Gatling Volley is revealed from your hand, you may pay 1R. If you do, Gatling Volley deals 1 damage to target player.

KEN: Feels like revelation should be to deal 1. If for 1 damage is the correct cost on revelation, how is it possible to make an appealing-looking Dragon with the mechanic?

MR: Assuming revelation cards can work (not a little if), I like this card.

Blastminer Blitz
Destroy target land. Blastminer Blitz deals 3 damage to target creature without flying.

KEN: While I find the showdown mechanic improved, the implementations I've seen so far create clash-level wordy cards. We don't like printing Lash Out at common anymore.

The revelation cards are repeatable effects depending on what enablers there are.

MR: This card is fine. We tend to avoid land destruction at common, but as this is five mana it won't be used to mana screw people so maybe it could stay. I'd still move it to uncommon personally.

I chose red for this challenge because I felt that it had the greatest connection to Deadsands and its mechanics.

In regards to those mechanics, I choose Revelation over Hold Out as it has more design space, is more likely to yield a benefit to the player, and is more Timmy-friendly. I retooled Showdown to reveal less information and still be nonrandom. The discard was added in so that one player couldn't win every showdown by holding onto one big spell. The draw precedes the discard so that players with empty hands won't automatically lose...and then draw a card. Sadly, it no longer triggers Revelation, but I feel its an acceptable loss. I unkeyworded spellslinging since it the timing and frequency of the reveal varies dramatically between cards. I decided to stick to revealing cards of the same color, as my set does not have a multicolor theme. I tried using other card properties, but most of them proved too restrictive in terms of building a deck.

As for my commons, I utilized as many Western tropes as I could. I also made sure that there were multiple ways to cheaply reveal cards at common and that all of my mechanics were well represented.

Random notes:
-Viashino are combat focused, while the bandits are focused on noncombat damage
-Don't worry. Auroch's are not a major part of the set. I wanted a Magic creature type that represented cows/buffalos and they fit the bill quite well.

KEN: We've got the Wild West and spellslinging. A great premise, but again it loses the duel at high noon due to poor execution. There's reveal tricks that aren't in a good starting place and perhaps some showdown game play that could shine if there weren't 4-power haste flyers stealing the show. I was looking for a poopy seven-drop here to be the winner discard for showdowns.

The strength of this world concept can only go so far. Execution needs to step up as eliminations get tighter.

Hightlight: Viashino Sandscout
Lowlight: Crystalline Ritual

AF: First off, you do a good job of adhering to your setting with your card concepts. I will admit to being turned off by the Western feel initially (I couldn't get past John Wayne and Tombstone mentally), but many coworkers liked the idea and after some chats with them I think it could work.

What isn't going to work, however, is showdown. When I read it, I feared it was a more high-stakes version of clash, and when I played it that fear was reinforced. The mechanic can be summarized as, "Discard your high-impact cards and you *might* get the bonus!" Granted, there is some gamesmanship involving both discarding lands, which is good for you, but there were too many feel-bad moments. At one point my hand was two Mountains and a four-mana spell. I drew Spellslinger Outlaw and cast it, as I really needed to kill my opponent's flyer. I drew another land as my showdown card, and was now faced with the painful choice of discarding my last spell to hope to kill the flyer. I compared it to buying a scratch ticket with my last dollar. One of the developers played a match with your cards, discarded spells to win all the showdowns, and then lost the game because his opponent had more spells to cast than he did.

There is something to the reveal mechanic, although these cards don't do its potential justice. The 4/1 hasty common flyer (really?) that reveals to give something haste seems like a "non-bo" with all the guys that reveal cards when they attack. What a terrible time to give things haste! Similarly, Fiery Totem—the other way to reveal cards—already has haste. Cards should work together in cool ways!

In general, there was a bunch of awkwardness as I played these cards. What is Crystalline Ritual for? I can't even use it to pump Fiery Deadeye. Interesting concepts, flailing execution. Not in my top half, but you could get there. If you aren't playing with your cards before you submit them, I suggest starting.

MT: Daniel, you're playing in a largely unexplored area of the rules. That's not to say I won't conclude everything is fine and we can proceed, but there's abundant reason for caution here. I'd want to wait a while before really devoting time to researching something like this in an early design. I was pleased with showdown and retaliate, though. Fun doesn't have to be complicated.

MR: Daniel, I appreciated all the work you did to get the Western tropes in. You have one of the most flavorful world concepts and I feel you're doing a good job at hitting the flavor. My issue with you isn't one of flavor but of mechanics. The biggest problem is that you are messing in a space filled with land mines. I would go back and look at what we've done with revealing and then also think carefully about what Matt is saying. I do appreciate the space you're messing around in and I've had the chance to dabble with it in the past (during Lorwyn design).

The other big problem is that showdown, while very cool conceptually, just doesn't play well. I think there's something there but if you're going to keep it, you're going to have to do some major overhauling. The trick I think is going to be to figure out where you're flavorful cards are playing well and seeing what mechanics you can expand out of those ideas. You have a very neat world but you still have to find a mechanical execution that shows that world yet plays well.

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