The Great Designer Search 2 Finalists

Posted in Feature on November 24, 2010

By Staff

Jonathan Woodward


Great civilizations of creatures grown large vie for power amongst Golamo's erratic mana geysers.

MR: I feel like you're telling me things but not exciting me. I don't want a cold explanation of the elements of your set, I want something cool and catchy that makes me want to know more. For example, "giant animals" is just more captivating than "creatures grown large." Less telling, more selling.

CG01 - Leaf-Spinner Druid
Creature - Spider Druid
Tap: Add G to your mana pool.

KEN: Cute. My waiting list for one-drop mana elves is pretty long, though. I do like that playing this in Constructed gives you some 0-power creatures you can enchant into threats.

MR: Every time someone saw this card in the playtest they'd always ask, "Why does this creature have reach?" I asked the same thing the first time I saw it. Green common normally only has one creature with reach. I think you have better choices for it than this creature.

CG02 - Graforman Explorer
[Graforman Explorer - - Havelock Vetinari
Creature - Insect Scout
Tap, sacrifice Graforman Explorer: Search your library for a basic land card, put that card onto the battlefield tapped, then shuffle your library.

KEN: I'm used to green getting a little bit better than this. Is this commentary on Sakura-Tribe Elder's power level?

MR: Not much to say on this card. I like the tap in the activation.

CG03 - Thamarach Hunter
[Graforman Drone - - Palpable
Creature - Spider Warrior
When Thamarach Hunter enters the battlefield, put a card from your hand on top of your library.
Favored (When Thamarach Hunter enters the battlefield, look at the top four cards of your library. You may reveal an Aura card from among them and attach it to Thamarach Hunter. Put the rest on the bottom of your library in any order.)

KEN: The downside here is huge unless you're playing into the card's plan. It screams "Play Auras!" louder than any common I can recall. This card will be the cause of many turn-two Eldrazi Conscriptions in casual play. That's a problem.

MT: Because the Aura card is a permanent, you can skip the reveal, but you do have to put the card onto the battlefield, like Academy Researchers. Note that if you find an Aura in the top four cards that can't legally enchant Thamarch Hunter, it will be counted in "the rest" and be placed on the bottom your library.

MR: Let's start by talking about favored. For starters it isn't a common mechanic. It's a mini-Tinker that can create crazy game swings. Secondly, I'm not even sure you want it as a keyword mechanic. This feels like something you put on a handful of creatures, possibly even just one sexy rare or mythic rare, not on a whole swatch of creatures. I like "Aura matters," but I had so many playtest games where I'd hit an Aura and it was just "game over."

My other comment on this card is could you please make the card to top of library optional. Twice I played this card and ended up down a card. It even made me choose not to play it on one occasion. This is bad for a rider that's supposed to be a positive (at least I believe it is).

CG04 - Thamarach Orb-Weaver
[Blessed Thamarach - - Cardkeeper
Creature - Spider Shaman
Favored (When Thamarach Orb-Weaver enters the battlefield, look at the top four cards of your library. You may reveal an Aura card from among them and attach it to Thamarach Orb-Weaver. Put the rest on the bottom of your library in any order.)

KEN: Here's another card like the previous.

MR: Another issue you need to pay attention to is a metric that R&D uses: How many words on average are appearing on your common cards? Your set (or possibly Jonathon Loucks's) had the highest average. In fact, there was one point where I was playtesting your deck and had five different cards in play. I added up the number of lines of text on those five cards. How much? Forty-three! I get nervous when commons have more than three and at most you'll see something like five. Those five cards averaged over eight lines of text each. This is a big issue you're going to have to address in the future.

CG05 - Unweaver Mystic
Creature - Spider Shaman
When Unweaver Mystic enters the battlefield, you may destroy target aura.
Favored (When Unweaver Mystic enters the battlefield, look at the top four cards of your library. You may reveal an Aura card from among them and attach it to Unweaver Mystic. Put the rest on the bottom of your library in any order.)

KEN: Here's another card like the previous. I'd expect the Aura-killing rider on a white card. A deftly placed card in an Aura-laden Limited environment.

MR: Favored shouldn't be in common but even if it was, I'm not sure you want three of them. Infect is the only mechanic I can think of in the recent past that had three or more cards in the common of any one color. That was because it was so central to what the set was doing, plus it was simple enough and had enough design variety. The fact that you had a 1/2 reach and a 1/3 shows that the design space is somewhat tight.

I also agree with Ken—I'm not sure what the Aura destruction text is doing here. One of the problems you have is you love to pile abilities on your cards. This is one of the major reasons there are so many words on your commons.

CG06 - Monstrous Toad
Creature - Toad

KEN: A Frog! The Toad creature type doesn't exist in Magic (anymore).

MR: A vanilla giant toad. What's not to love? (I for one would like to see the Toad creature type return. Along with squirrels, of course.)

CG07 - Thamarach Mentor
Creature - Spider Shaman
Favored (When Thamarach Mentor enters the battlefield, look at the top four cards of your library. You may reveal an Aura card from among them and attach it to Thamarach Mentor. Put the rest on the bottom of your library in any order.)

KEN: Here's another card like the previous. I think this designer has too low an opinion of the playability of Auras. At the Ravnica prerelease, I saw tons of Street Savvy enchanted on creatures. There are plenty of players that love Auras. The saturation here is a bit like force-feeding, though.

MR: This is the fourth card with favored and the third one with reach. Variety is very important in common because you want to make sure that games have variance. If too many of a color's commons are the same, it makes the games too similar.

Another issue is that you have too much toughness, making it very hard for other colors to breakthrough on the ground.

CG08 - Graforman Consul
[Graforman Consul - - Cardkeeper
Creature - Insect Soldier
Swarm (Whenever a creature would block a creature with Swarm, it instead blocks all attacking creatures with Swarm. You choose the order in which the blocking creature deals combat damage.)
When Graforman Consul enters the battlefield, put two 1/1 green Insect tokens with Swarm onto the battlefield.

KEN: Should it make three tokens? There's plenty of 3's on the card already. But I like it. At uncommon.

MT: Unfortunately, swarm just doesn't work. It violates the basic structure of the combat phase, affecting not only when and how blocks are declared, but also how players set their creatures' damage assignment order. It seems straightforward in the basic case, but start thinking about blocking triggers, other requirements and restrictions, not to mention some multiplayer formats, and the ability simply breaks down.

MR: I like what swarm is trying to do, but it has some issues. There's the rules issues Matt's talked about, but let's just assume they work for a moment. (Design does this from time to time to see if an idea has merit.) My concern is complexity. This is not a common mechanic. I'm also not sure how many cards you want to make with it, which is a problem because the mechanic requires you to have a bunch for it to mean anything. You solve the problem on this card by having it come with counters. Perhaps that is what they all do. But this again makes it less common as mass token creation is mostly done at higher rarities. There's something interesting here but you have to solve a number of problems.

CG09 - Graforman Hexasquad
Creature - Insect Soldier

KEN: If I were trying to submit a card for the "It HAS to be a green Uncommon!" contest, I just might have designed this card. The near Duskdale Wurm-size, square stats, triple color requirement, and trample ability combine for uncommon status. Go bigger and dumber and maybe it's a rare Terra Stomper.

Sometime in the future, there might be a set that needs 6/6 for bizarre chroma reasons.

MR: Nice and simple. Unfortunately, not common. You could lose the trample if you want to keep it at common.

CG10 - Giant Growth
[Giant Growth - Alpha]
Target creature gets +3/+3 until end of turn.

KEN: With so much toughness, I was hoping to see an attacking-matters Giant Growth effect here like Roar of Jukai instead of this.

MR: I was hoping you'd use the repeat to help say something about your set. This just comes across as an iconic card of the color that's fun to reprint. That's a fine reason to reprint it, but it doesn't let you show off as a designer. I would have liked to see a more inventive reprint option.

CG11 - Venomous Bite
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant Creature
Enchanted Creature has deathtouch.

KEN: I don't think our developers would put this card in their deck, even with favored creatures. Perhaps the designer is cleverly rewarding the set's favored Prodigal Pyromancer here?

MR: My feeling on this card is kind of blah. For a set with an Aura theme, I was hoping to be more wowed by the auras.

CG12 - Essence of Might
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant Creature
Enchanted Creature gets +2/+2 and has Trample.
Incarnate 1G (Pay 1G and exile this card from your hand: Put a 0/0 colorless Weird creature token onto the battlefield, then put this card onto the battlefield attached to that token. Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery.

KEN: I get incarnate. I get favored. I get they work together. However, it's not all-upside. When you favor an incarnate Aura, you completely whiff on the incarnate ability. Many players, myself included, feel a pang of guilt that the incarnate ability on my Aura went to waste.

Most Auras don't have this problem. Any favored creature and any beneficial Aura will do.

Auratouched Mage
Elder Mastery

A week ago, in Friday EDH, I attacked with this monster:

There's no "missed bonus" to see here. Just double and triple upside "You did it!" combos.

MT: On the plus side, incarnate looks like a winner. There are, of course, some templating tweaks to consider (look at cycling's reminder text for a good example of activated ability reminder text), but you're in the ballpark.

MR: I like incarnate a lot. It cleverly answers a frequent problem with Auras. Is it common? It's pushing it. Every set gets to stick complexity points somewhere and maybe this mechanic is it. My issue with this particular card is that I wish you picked a mechanic other than trample, as a 2/2 trampler seems uninteresting. I'd rather you picked a keyword that worked well regardless of which option you chose.

Ken is right that incarnate and favored are not synergetic.

CG13 - Colonize
[Graforman Patrol - - Cardkeeper
Put two 1/1 green Insect creature tokens with Swarm onto the battlefield. (Whenever a creature would block a creature with Swarm, it instead blocks all attacking creatures with Swarm. You choose the order in which the blocking creature deals combat damage.)

KEN: This is nice, and possibly the minimalist version of a Swarm card that makes sense.

MR: The fact that the absolute simplest version of the mechanic doesn't feel common to me doesn't bode well for it as a common mechanic.

CG14 - Embodiment of Wisdom
[Ophidian Aura -
] - Jeff
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant Creature
Enchanted creature gets +1/+1 and has "Whenever enchanted creature deals combat damage to an opponent, you may draw a card".
Incarnate 2G (Pay 2G and exile this card from your hand: Put a 0/0 colorless Weird creature token onto the battlefield, then put this card onto the battlefield attached to that token. Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery.

KEN: I know Snake Umbra is a common, but I would be happiest with this card, as is, at uncommon since it does three things.

MR: I seem to go through phases with maxims. Here's the one becoming popular in GDS2: "The more complex the set-up, the simpler the effect." Incarnate is complicated. I would make the Aura effects as simple as possible. I know "curiosity" seems simple to someone familiar with it, but it's a little more intimidating if you've never used it before. I would have stuck to creature keywords on common incarnate spells.

CG15 - Unravel/Acidic Flow
[Unravel - - Jeff
Erupt 3 (As an additional cost to cast this spell, you may exile three instant or sorcery cards from your graveyard.)
Destroy target artifact or enchantment. If you paid the erupt cost, destroy another target artifact or enchantment.

KEN: While erupt might be fine in a vacuum, placed here it's alongside favored. Both those mechanics are "deck-saturation-of-a-card-type-matters," and there's no overlap between instants+sorceries and Auras+favored.

MT: Well, I know erupt works, but you just as easily could've submitted "Kicker—Exile three instant or sorcery cards from your graveyard." We don't mind putting a significant twist on an existing ability and giving it a new keyword, but this is way too close.

MR: Your set seems to be about Auras and then up pops a mechanic about instants and sorceries. You need to focus. What's the set about? Taking erupt out of the context of the overall set, I'm not a big fan. It's a graveyard resource card that eats up the graveyard. I've found that you can't have too many of these as they fight each other for space. I'd prefer that it just looked to see if you had enough rather than exile them.

CG16 - Bubbling Spring
Erupt 3 (As an additional cost to cast this spell, you may exile three instant or sorcery cards from your graveyard.)
You gain five life. If you paid the erupt cost, you gain ten life instead.

KEN: Erupt is going to be difficult in Limited, I feel. Difficult is not bad, but the payoff should be worth it. This might be right, it's more of a feel thing. I did get to kick this, so it's not too far off.

MR: If erupt stays, you're going to have to find a way to make it organic to the set. Right now it sticks out like a sore thumb. Nothing else cares about either instants and sorceries, or the graveyard.

CG17 - Grove-Spanning Web
Prevent all combat damage that would be dealt by unblocked creatures this turn. They do not untap as normal during their controller's next untap step.

KEN: This is a ton of prevented damage. Maybe upside Tangle shouldn't be common?

MT: I'm not sure what to make of this card. Its two effects check which creatures they affect at different times. What if I cast this before combat? It looks like unblocked creatures would still have their damage prevented but they'd still untap. Maybe? Something needs to change here.

MR: I like it. Ken is right that's it's pushing it at common, but I think it might be okay. The double green mana will make it a bit harder to splash, which I guess is good if it's common. If it was in my set, I'd be tempted to move it to uncommon and change the mana cost to only have one green mana.

CG18 - Tendrils of Growth
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant Creature
Enchanted Creature gets +3/+3.
Incarnate 2GG (Pay 2GG and exile this card from your hand: Put a 0/0 colorless Weird creature token onto the battlefield, then put this card onto the battlefield attached to that token. Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery.

KEN: This is a face-smashing of an Aura to favor out. I don't think favor or this size of Aura can exist for common.

This common set has the most cards with analogous game play. On one axis we call that "theme", on another axis we call that "no diversity of game play." In this case, I'd say that the similarity of the cards impedes the number of possible game states in a bad way. Luckily, the game play promoted here is "create a giant monster," my very favorite theme to promote. Rise of the Eldrazi managed to execute the "create a giant monster" theme in three distinct ways: Eldrazi Spawn into Eldrazi, level up, and creature + multiple totem armors.

MR: I like that this is a basic incarnate card. I think +3/+3 is a little much at common, but it's in green and in your set's theme, it's probably okay. (Note that I have to keep debating whether cards are common. Even if a few go your way, the majority cannot.)


Green shares the Thamarach spiders with Blue. These solitary creatures focus upon using the Favored mechanic to bolster themselves in unpredictable ways. Incarnate Auras in all five colors support this strategy, as well as providing a use for drawn Auras that does not risk card disadvantage, and bolsters creature counts. Some Auras are good enough for any deck, others are only acceptable when used with Favored creatures.

The Graforman ants exist in Green and White (more in White than Green, due to their communal nature), and rely upon numbers to overwhelm their opponents. Tokens with the Swarm mechanic support this; when creatures with Swarm attack together, any creature that blocks one blocks them all. That can help the opponent live another turn, but it almost guarantees the destruction of the blocking creature, even if it is larger than the attackers. The surviving Graformans can attack again the following turn.

The flavor of the erratic geysers of Golamo is displayed by the Erupt mechanic. Your opponent may be safe for a while, but as Instants and Sorceries accumulate, the danger of an eruption increases. Most Erupt spells are in Red and Blue, but a few exist in each of the other colors.

KEN: There's trio of problems with this submission: Text, toughness, brokenness.
First up, text! Text, text, text. Who likes text? Well, many people do, but only after strong editing. The word count here is unprintable.

Second is toughness. Toughness is not the stat to be generous to on commons. Go make a set of commons where every creature has greater toughness than power, playtest it, and see what happens. Answer: nothing! Nothing happens. You don't have to hate toughness as much as Mike Turian, but you can't love it this much. While it's true you can make green a defensive color (like Thallids in Time Spiral), that's a very rare circumstance and must be expertly crafted.

Third is brokenness. While Auras might not be the best card type ever, with favored you get them for zero mana and zero cards. Most everything in Magic is broken at the cost of zero mana and zero cards (even at the cost of "some deck space").

Hightlight: Colonize
Lowlight: Thamarach Hunter

AF: I think I'm looking at an "enchantment matters" set here, as there are creatures that want a deck full of Auras, and Auras that can become creatures, but then there's this erupt mechanic that also wants me to play with lots of instants and sorceries. The focus isn't there.

Favored is a ridiculous mechanic. In a set full of Aura-themed cards, you are going to want to make some powerful Auras, stuff along the lines of Griffin Guide, Elder Mastery, and Gigantiform. But this "play for free" mechanic most likely won't let you. Imagine the 2/3 with Elder Mastery on it on turn two! A 5/6 flyer that makes you discard two cards?! Heck, even the Oakenform you have in your set was typically game over. The 2/3, in general, is so insanely swingy—either you are down a card for Elvish Warrior, or you have a 3/4 Scroll Thief or a 5/6. Often the whole game came down to how that creature did on the second turn.

Incarnate is cool and keeps Auras from being bad top-decks, although they'll typically feel pretty weak as creatures. I also like swarm—it has good flavor and creates some cool combat situations. Unfortunately, I don't see how it all fits together. Zendikar took a bunch of disparate mechanics but tied them together with the familiar trope of "adventure world." I don't know what the resonant, understandable top line of your world is that makes me go, "Auras, Spiders, erupt, it all makes sense." If you are designing top-down to a world that the average player has no frame of reference for, you might as well not even be doing it.

A couple cool mechanics, one bad one, and a lack of cohesion puts you just outside of my top half this time, but I wonder how salvageable the set is.

MT: Jonathan, you're batting about .500 with me. Favored and incarnate are winners (and, fortuitously, play well together). Swarm and erupt fail for me for different reasons: swarm for breaking rules haphazardly to reach an end goal, erupt for conforming too closely to an existing keyword. I see where you're trying to go with swarm, and I think the idea is solid, but its execution needs a serious overhaul. Mechanics that remind the rules manager of banding tend to have a short life expectancy.

MR: Jonathan, right now your world is feeling very muddled to me. I can listen to you explain what is going on, but I'm not getting it from the cards. The result of this is that your set feels unfocused. I understand you're creating factions but I don't understand what they are or why there needs to be factions at all. What role do they play in your block?

Another big issue you had this week is best boiled down to "too many words." I brought up the lines of text because one only needed look at the cards in play to see that there is too much complexity in your commons right now. The trick for you is to figure out how to hit your themes without making mechanics that require so much complexity. You have very neat ideas but you have to find simpler ways to express them.

Finally, I don't think you are capitalizing on one of my favorite parts of your set—the giant animals. You seem to just be making cards and then labeling them as things that are traditionally smaller. What I want to see is a card that feels like it's a small creature but is on a big creature. Sell me on a giant squirrel. (Okay, not a squirrel, since we don't do squirrels much anymore—but pick some traditional small animals.)

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