The Great Designer Search 2 Finalists: Ethan Fleischer

Posted in Feature on December 8, 2010

By Staff

Ethan Fleischer


In a world where centuries pass in hours, only the fittest will survive!

MR: This week, I made everyone turn their logline into the blurb below the logo on the poster. Your logline is catchy and has fun word play. Also, it conveys both your time theme and that the set is about evolution. All in all, good job.

Lazy Pterosaur
Creature - Bird Lizard
1U: CARDNAME gets +1/+0 and gains flying until end of turn. Activate this ability only once each turn.

KEN: A fun creature. Nice costing here. This was my favorite card I played with this episode.

MG: Cute. This is a nice way to show evolution, as players actively help their Pterosaurs learn to fly. It's reminiscent of other flavorful "learning" creatures like Drake Hatchling.

ZH: So a Rootwalla-type ability doesn't jibe well with your "develop" mechanic; in fact, you want to offer mana-sinks like this to discourage players from casting multiple spells at once. Having to choose which creature to enhance on a given turn is the wrong kind of choice, because you're throwing the mutual-exclusivity of a player's options in his or her face.

MR: One of the things I really enjoyed about this week's submission, is how much I could see the research. You've decided to create a prehistoric world so you took the time to learn about the topic. That research shows and I feel helps give your set a real cohesion. For example, this card could have been a forgettable little blue creature but instead it's become a card that helps flavorfully reinforce your theme. Good job.

Playtesting did, by the way, prove Zac's point interestingly. I kept not attacking with my Lazy Pterosaur because I was trying to play extra spells to pump my develop creatures.

Primitive Tool-maker
Creature - Merfolk Fish Artificer
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, look at the top five cards of your library. You may reveal an artifact card from among them and put it into your hand. Then put the rest on the bottom of your library in any order.

KEN: After seeing this baby Stoneforge Mystic, I'm looking forward to the artifact slots in this set.

MG: It's a Faerie Mechanist, but with more of an emphasis on the artifact and less of an emphasis on the creature. It's flavorful for a primitive artificer, and it fits right into blue's slice of the color pie.

ZH: Cool. I like it, though I don't understand what is entailed by a "merfolk fish." If what you're going for is that these are the earliest evolutions of fish into "proto-Merfolk"—yeah, that's pretty sweet! I will say, however, that three 1U creatures out of nine total isn't optimal, and this creature is probably the most flexible when it comes to stats and numbers.

MR: This card is another example of something you did right this week. Last week I questioned why you want to use more artifacts than normal and this week you used your commentary to explain what you're up to. Having an Equipment subtheme so that you can show the tools improving over time seems like it might work. The issue you're going to have to deal with is how many humanoids do you want in the first set.

It seems like you want a world with dinosaurs and cavemen which while not true to Earth definitely has plenty of support from pop culture (which to me means that people would have no problem accepting it). One of the things you need to think through is how you want these two subsets to interact with one another. What role do the dinosaurs and cavemen have with one another?

I also like how this card will play differently in Limited (where it probably can only get Equipment—at least at lower rarities) than it should in Constructed where there will be access to a much wider spread of artifacts.

Ætherstorm Archaeopteryx
Creature - Bird Lizard
Develop - Whenever you cast a spell, if it's the second spell you cast this turn, you may put +1/+1 counter on CARDNAME.

KEN: An easier trigger would just be the first spell you cast each turn. That would encourage a "my turn one sorcery / your turn one instant" method of spellcasting. This second spell version is much harder to trigger so the rewards can be better. It encourages Peek and other cheap cantrips. I'll be on the lookout for a Darting Merfolk or Timid Drake elsewhere in the set.

Fascinating. I really like the green "evolve" ability that grants a +1/+1 counter when a larger creature shows up; it's immensely flavorful (the smaller creature adapts so it won't get stepped on, learning how to bulk up by mimicking the larger creature) and engenders some nice game play (hey kids—curve out your creatures and play some fatties!) This implementation works for me as well, since it makes a lot of sense that blue evolves via learning and technology (represented here by spellcasting). I'm less certain about the specific details of the trigger, since it might encourage players to not play their spells while they hoard them up for two-in-a-turn bonanzas. That's something playtesting will show; for now, I like where your head is at.

Where you lose me is purely in the packaging. Choosing five different trigger conditions for these evolution mechanics seems like a fine choice, and choosing one consistent effect (at least in the first set) also seems like a fine choice. However, labeling these abilities with five different words—each a synonym for "evolve"—will get very old very fast. Ability words are mnemonics that help players grok their cards faster (as well as talk about them more easily), but employing synonymous words won't break up players' mindspace, and it may cause serious problems in translation. This is a problem that could be fobbed off on the Creative team, but the more active you are in addressing it, the more your design vision shines through. I suggest using a consistent word with a parameter that changes by color, like "develop strength" in green, "develop technology" in blue, etc.

ZH: When I first read develop, I envisoned a conflict between the "natural" forces of a plane who were "evolving" into more advanced life-forms, and the sentient creatures on that same plane who were "developing" their society scientifically to deal with the accelerated evolution. But develop is on a dinosaur, and it's doing the same thing as evolve. So why not just call it evolve?

MR: Okay, develop. Let's start by talking about the word (everyone's doing it). Develop is blue's version of evolve. That being the case, I think there's a better word for it: evolve. I don't believe we want one effect being used through five different colors and then want the players to have to learn five different words. As Mark pointed out, it's much easier to teach players that the set has an ability word that gets +1/+1 counters on creatures and that each color has its own trigger. Besides the mental learning issue, there is also a conservation of word issue. Using up every word that means evolve is going to make it very hard when we create a mechanic several years down the road that needs one of those words. Things evolving is a common theme in Magic.

Now let's talk about your trigger. Casting two spells has a number of limitations on it. The biggest being that it's very hard to do early. I'm worried that you don't want to do an evolve trigger that doesn't happen until mid game. If you keep this trigger, it will definitely warp your set as it will require you to bring down the converted mana costs of your spells, especially in blue, to make the trigger happen a little more than normal. Props to you, by the way, that you did exactly that in your submission this week. If any color gets the later game evolve trigger it's blue (or possibly white) so I'm not against this trigger. I also agree that it's pretty flavorful for blue. I just want to point out that it's going to shape your design more than you might realize at first blush.

Creature - Fish
CARDNAME can't attack unless defending player controls an Island.
Whenever you cast a creature spell without flying, you may sacrifice CARDNAME. If you do, that creature enters the battlefield with two +1/+1 counters on it.

KEN: During playtesting I missed the "without flying" clause. There's a flavor justification for it, fish evolve into land-dwelling lizards or whatnot. To me it played more like baby devour, and flying birds are sure to like eating fish. It's nice to devour a creature that couldn't attack very well anyway. Perhaps a couple more cards in this vein?

Delicious Egg
Creature – Egg
When you cast a creature spell, you may sacrifice CARDNAME. If you do, that creature enters the battlefield with two +1/+1 counters on it.

MG: This feels very uncommon to me. It also feels undercosted. That's a powerful blocker in blue for two mana, plus it might be able to attack, plus it has a wacky upside second ability.

The trigger might be better as a free-floating additional cost rather than a triggered ability: "As an additional cost to cast a creature spell without flying, you may sacrifice CARDNAME. If you do, that creature enters the battlefield with two additional +1/+1 counters on it."

ZH: I am sure I'm supposed to understand why this says "without flying," but I don't. I guess the idea is that this is the fish out of which life-forms became able to adapt to life on land? That's fine, but sea-to-air isn't a ridiculous form of evolution, either, and you can communicate the point of what this creature is doing without the extra line of text. Pretty complex for an unexciting creature.

MR: Let me start by saying I love the flavor of this card. I tasked you with making evolution matter mechanically and you have embraced that task with gusto. As I see another version of this mechanic later in the file, it clearly is not a one of but a mechanical theme you're exploring. My concern is threefold. First, cards that sacrifice creatures as a cost tend to be unfavorable to a certain subset of our players. Devour existed so obviously sometimes we do this even though there are people unwilling to sacrifice creatures. I would just make sure that this mini-theme is small enough that players wanting to ignore it can.

Second, I'm not sure why you need the "without flying" restriction. If it is solely flavor (which it appears to be), I would think about whether it's necessary. In my mind it adds a little bit of complexity without the flavor payoff I would hope for. You get the evolution flavor even if the Lungfish turns into a small flyer. Third, I'm curious how this mini-theme both plays into this set and plays into this block. There are mechanical ways to make it relevant, but I don't get the full sense of it from just blue commons. Finally, I think Gottlieb's advice to move this and its companion card to uncommon is not a bad idea.

Tempest Caller
Creature - Merfolk Fish Shaman
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, put a flood counter on target land. That land is an Island in addition to its other types for as long as it has a flood counter on it.

KEN: We've got a return of the "Merfolk pee on your lands, turning them into Islands" mechanic from Lorwyn. Combos with the Lungfish, while daring you to choose between a 4/4 or 2/2 and 2/3.

MG: Why would you want to do this? This ability feels like it's been put onto this card just because it's something blue can do, as though you fished it out of the color-pie grab bag. In this set of blue commons, there are two cards that turn lands into Islands, yet there's only one card (CU04) that actually cares about Islands. For comparison, Lorwyn also had two cards that turned lands into Islands (Aquitect's Will and Streambed Aquitects), but it had three commons that cared about Islands—one of which was Streambed Aquitects itself. Lorwyn also had two uncommons and a rare that cared about Islands. This card incurs a bookkeeping counter for very little purpose.

ZH: I like the interaction with the previous creature, and I assume there are going to be higher-rarity Leviathan-y creatures who will care about this as well. Neat card.

MR: Flavor—thumbs up. Mechanics—I'm a little more mixed. While I love counters, I have learned that we have to be very careful with them at common. Cards that make one-of counters make me nervous. You were smart to restrict them to a permanent type that seldom has counters, but you also chose the permanent type that has the most movement. I do like how it ties into other "swimming" creatures in the set.

The big question is: Is it carrying its weight? As I explained last time, designers have only so many complexity points to spend at common. Is this card one that you want to spend them on? I'm not sure the answer is no, but I'm a little dubious. At worst, you could make an enchant land at common and then move this card to uncommon. The thing you need to figure out is how important is your "swimming" mini-theme.

Feathered Theropod
[Evolvable Raptor -
Creature - Lizard
Whenever you cast a creature spell with flying, you may sacrifice CARDNAME. If you do, that creature enters the battlefield with two +1/+1 counters on it.

KEN: Here the flavor is Lizards sprouting wings and taking to the air.

I'll mention that these evolutionary transitions are difficult to show in a still card illustration. In animation, you see start creature, morphing transitions, end creature. On a Magic card, you're likely to end up with bird wings and tail on a forked-tongue lizard, looking more contorted than majestic. Figure of Destiny has this problem, and tries to show all its forms in one illustration. All level-up creatures have this problem, but try to show their max level form only.

A designer can choose not to worry about such things, but I certainly care when my cards/mechanics/sets lose awesomeness points anywhere in the pipeline.

MG: See CU04. These two cards are clever mechanical implementations of evolution ... too clever, really. I didn't figure out what these cards represented until reading the comments section. I'm not optimistic that the lizard-evolving-into-a-bird flavor can be captured by the art, either. It's a valiantly ambitious attempt, but the story may be too complex to convey via mechanics. On top of that, having two commons in the same color that work the opposite way but read almost identically (look carefully for "with" vs. "without"!) is a bad idea; they're very easily confusable. Rosewater didn't even realize they were different abilities until I pointed it out to him.

ZH: Aah, I see. The creature for flyers, and the creature for non-flyers. In general blue creature real estate is at a premium, and I don't see much of a reason to do this gimmick twice. I'd do something else with this slot.

MR: Let me start by filling in the story that Gottlieb alludes to. I playtested with the cards. At one point, I play this card. Then I play a non-flyer and attempt to sacrifice Feathered Theropod only to have my opponent point out that this only works with a flyer. I had played CU04 [Lungfish] earlier and assumed that they worked the same. Obviously, I need to read my cards, but my making this mistake is a sign of a problem—that you have two cards work very closely but not exactly the same is a recipe for players playing it wrong.

As I explained above in CU04 [Lungfish], I'm not sure exactly how this little sub-theme fits into the bigger picture. You've dedicated two cards to it so that implies that it's decently important. This theme wasn't in your green cards so I don't know if it's something just in blue or in numerous colors but not green or if you figured it out after the last design challenge and it would be in green. Basically, I'm not sure what you're up to but I'm willing to see more. This subtheme could be giving breadth to your set or wasting valuable card space. I'm not sure yet.

The issue to worry about is this: it's easy to fall in love with individual cards because their flavor/design is so awesome. At some point though the card has to be judged not in a vacuum but in the context of the set. These cards add a lot of flavor and are cool designs but are they spending resources you'd rather spend elsewhere? I can't answer this for you, I'm just raising the question.

Trilobite Colony
Creature - Crab

KEN: I would normally just let a card like this slide, but this designer is displaying such strong instincts that I'm going to tighten the screws likewise. Why not a "Docile Ankylosaurus" concept here?

MG: We've never done a 1/5 vanilla blue creature, and the only vanilla is Giant Octopus, which is 3/3. Nice get.

ZH: Good. I was wondering when I'd see a way to solidify my defense while my flyers hit in the air, and this creature accomplishes that goal nicely.

MR: My two big notes were each hit by judges already. I agree with Ken that you punted on the flavor possibility with this card. A crab is cutesy in a Magic history kind of way, but it doesn't promote your themes. You've been doing so well on the other cards, don't miss out here.

Second, congrats on finding what I call an "unfound" vanilla. We've been mining vanilla creatures for seventeen years. Finding one we haven't got yet shows that you both pay attention and have been putting in the time researching what we've done before.

Creature - Bird Lizard

KEN: We get an Esper Cormorants smasher of a common blue creature. This makes the set feels more like it's in development than design—blue in design is normally underplayed/underpowered then development steps in with double-colored uncommon-esque blue commons so blue isn't blank in Limited.

MG: This is a fine idea design-wise: a simple, 3-power blue flyer. However (putting on my developer hat), this implementation is too aggressive at common; at this power level and commonality, the card would be too strong in Limited. We've printed this creature—with a drawback!—at uncommon twice: Hoverguard Observer and Stronghold Zeppelin. More recently, all common 3-power flyers cost five mana, are multicolored, have less than 3 toughness, or have some sort of drawback. It's close, but I don't think the second blue mana is enough to balance the card at this rarity.

ZH: Similarly, I was wondering when I'd see my "reward" (N casting cost power common that we use to incentivize people to have a "base" color in Limited) for sticking to blue. This creature is strong, powerful, and straightforward, and also allows me an "entry point" if I'm not really familiar with the set's mechanics: "Oh, I know this creature is good, so I'll take it and see what happens." It's important to have some number of these. Good job.

MR: Now this card gets it right. French vanilla with in set flavor. It's even a powerful Limited card (with double blue in the mana cost to lure you into blue) which is something blue is always looking for in common. I like it!

Ætherstorm Mosasaur
Creature - Whale Lizard
CARDNAME can't attack unless its power is 6 or greater.
Develop - Whenever you cast a spell, if it's the second spell you cast this turn, you may put +1/+1 counter on CARDNAME.

KEN: These dinosaurs in general are great for me. This one has a story—it's on a quest to be able to attack.

MG: The type line is kind of nuts, but I like this card a lot. It's a cute Sea Monster variant that plays into the set themes.

ZH: I like this creature as this set's variant of the Serpent. It has a story by itself and also ties in well with the creatures that allow you to sacrifice themselves to add counters. Cool.

MR: Here's where you can see your design start to shape itself. You've committed yourself to evolution as a theme which led you to the evolve mechanic. Now that you have your creatures growing, you're starting to mess around with a "power matters" theme. It's all coming together.

My one issue with this card is that you want to be careful not to have two conditional attackers in blue common (creatures that cannot attack unless X). Either this or CU04 [Lungfish] should probably change.

Now and Then
[Past and Future -
Look at the top card and bottom card of your library. Put one in your hand and one in your graveyard.

KEN: We have a "blue develop enabler" as it's a cheap cantrip. I'm expecting another cheap cantrip in another blue spell slot.

I found this one difficult to operate as I lack a third hand. Sure, Now and Then is easier than

Look at the 13th card from the top of your library and the 13th card from the bottom of your library. You may swap their places in your library.
Draw a card.

But at some point there's a line crossed. I'll admit that Telling Time reads like a poem.

The designers are pressured for new cards, pressured for crowd-sourced cards.

MG: If I don't think about this card, it's a beautiful little poem. If I do think about it, however, I realize that while the top card of my library represents the near future, the bottom card of my library has never represented the past. If anything, the bottom card of my library represents very, very far into the future. Having an Opt or Sleight of Hand in the set is a fine idea, but the top-down flavor of this particular card fails for me.

ZH: This is a weird operation to execute, but I like that you have an "Opt"-type common to help out with develop (though, again, develop should probably not be called "develop"). Actually casting this card is very awkward, though, I will say. This might ought to just be a cantrip reprint or some other variant that doesn't involve me having to pick my deck up and secure the bottom card without revealing extra information to myself, or my opponent. As a Pro Tour player, I could see a lot of people receiving warnings for messing this up.

MR: This card feels like a tweak just for the sake of a tweak. While I don't dislike the card in a vacuum, it doesn't particularly feel connected to the set. The one connection I do see is that your blue evolve mechanic needs cheap spells.

Rain Dance Charm
Choose one--draw a card; or target creature gains flying until end of turn; or target land is an island until the beginning of the next end step.

KEN: We normally do charms in cycles. I don't remember a green one. Why is the duration weird on the "Merfolk pee on lands turning them into Islands" effect? Why not "target land is an Island until end of turn."?

MG: Normally you wouldn't want two different one-mana blue cantrips in the set. The "develop" mechanic might justify it here, since you do want players to be able to cast two spells in a turn somewhat regularly. Even so, CU10 and CU11 are too redundant, especially given that CU13, CU17, and CU18 are also cantrips or straight-up card-drawing spells. Also see my comment on CU05 regarding Islandification.

ZH: I like this choice of abilities, and "charms" feel very "evolution-y" to me. You probably don't need two 1CC (one casting cost) cantrips, though, even with develop happening.

MR: Charms traditionally have always been part of a cycle. Either you've added this since you did green or this is some kind of a vertical cycle. I do like the idea of charms in a set about evolution.

I see you got another cheap spell to help your blue evolve. The effects all feel fine and the third one is clearly playing into your "swimming" theme. I do find it funny how each of us has a different name for it. I'm hoping the name "swimming" sticks more than "merfolk pee on lands turning them into Islands".

Cold-blooded Torpor
[The Harder They Fall -
Tap target creature. It doesn't untap during its controller's next untap step.

KEN: I'd be nicer to this card and charge . Aggressive-rewarding blue cards basically never backfire on us. We can print powerful Sleep and Coralhelm Commander-like cards and they are still fun even when powerful. The designer probably saw an oversaturation of -cost spells in blue common, though.

MG: Cool. I'm kind of amazed we've never printed this, so that's a nice find by Toby or Not Toby, and a nice pickup by you.

ZH: This could probably cost , which would solve your "I want cheap spells" problem and allow you to get rid of one of the cantrips (probably Now and Then). I like what you're doing with the slot, though.

MR: For a long time, blue's piece of the color pie was enchantments that locked permanents down and white and green had spells and abilities that tapped things and locked them down. But then Magic 2011 started playing around with the flavor of blue freezing things and that ability started bleeding into blue. You kept the cold flavor so I guess this card is fine. My biggest strike against it is that I'm not sure how much play value it has, but hey, we can let development worry about it.

Untap target permanent.
Draw a card.

KEN: Another cheap cantrip. That makes three. Possibly dangerous but probably enables more fun things than broken things.

MG: A fine blue common combat trick/utility card, though it is cantrip #3.

ZH: Okay, now we're getting a little excessive. This is now four cards that don't really do all that much by themselves, and three of them cantrip. As mentioned before, a couple of these are fine. But you want to venture beyond basic operations, even if they serve as enablers. Also, the environment where every blue deck is effectively full of one-mana cyclers isn't fun: "Oh, you drew your bomb again. What a surprise."

MR: It appears to start my comments I'm required to tell you that this is your third cantrip. This is another card that feels like it's just filling space. It doesn't have any flavor or mechanics particularly relevant to the set. For a set filled to the brim with cards that feel like they belong, this is one of those that stands out like a sore thumb.

Reject Innovation
[Mana Leak of the Fittest -
Counter target spell unless its controller pays X, where X is the highest power among creatures you control.

KEN: We've got a mechanic somewhat akin to Scourge's "highest CMC (converted mana cost) among creatures you control"-matters. Naya had some cards like this in Soul's Fire.

Mana Leak-style cards in general can be irksome. If Standard blue decks are allowed say four Mana Leak, four Remand, they can become overly disruptive and robust in the early game, which translates to midgame/lategame power. We are okay with blue decks crushing in the late game, but in return they need early game weakness.

MG: This got my attention. Blue doesn't normally care about high power, but in a primitive land where might makes right, it makes total sense. I'm a big fan of countermagic that requires you to play with creatures to turn it on.

ZH: I like it. In general, I like countermagic that rewards players for playing creatures, and I think the execution of this particular card is very suitable for this set. Good job.

MR: I like the "power matters" mini-theme. That said, this spell feels a little forced. You have to find ways to reference power where it feels right. This card seems to care about power because ... well, because that's what the text said. Make your mini-theme work without any of its text feeling forced.

[Turn to Fossil -
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant creature
Enchanted creature doesn't untap during it's controller's untap step and is an artifact in addition to its other types.

KEN: This is a serviceable Frozen Solid with a little flavor tacked on. Hopefully a Shatter combo gets to shine in draft here.

MG: Phenomenal flavor. Holy cow. Another hit by Toby or Not Toby, and credit to you for including it. We've seen a dozen variations on this staple blue removal spell, and the ingenuity applied here makes it feel brand new.

ZH: Neat story that this card tells. Also gives you room to do a clever "artifact-matters" card or two at uncommon to add some robustness to the Limited environment.

MR: I've said numerous times that the hardest thing to design in Magic is the commons. One of the reasons for this is that you have to be careful not to have cards hit too close to one another. Having an instant that locks things down as well as an enchantment is one too many. Also, I just don't get the flavor. Freezing I get. My creature turning into a fossil until I Naturalize it and my creature becomes alive again doesn't make any sense. (Other judges seem to like the flavor, so maybe it's just me.)

Also, while I can maybe buy your Equipment subtheme to demonstrate technology advancing, I don't see the artifact interaction on this card being relevant. This set doesn't want cards that care if things are artifacts, but that's exactly what cards like this need to plug into.

Tidal Lash
Choose one - Counter target creature spell; or tap up to two target creatures.

KEN: Not my favorite combination of abilities ever, feels stapled together from two blue spell effects not yet used at common. The cost should almost certainly just be . Double color costs have profound effects on Limited, and they should be spent very wisely. Most cards in Magic are single-colored, and it's that way for a good reason.

MG: Modal spells are not particularly simple, and this is the second one to show up at common. At least one of them shouldn't be here.

ZH: It's weird to me to have two modal spells at common, especially when you have spells that are already doing both of this card's modes. I like the card in a vacuum but I'm not entirely sure why it's in this set.

MR: Hello, hot glue gun. As I explained last episode, a "hot glue gun card" is a card where the various pieces don't feel connected and it seems like the designer just hot glue gunned them on the card. Also, you clearly have a subtheme of tapping creatures but I don't really get what the subtheme is doing for you. Rather than make the set feel connected, it is making the set feel repetitive.

Turn Back Time
Return target permanent to its owner's hand.
Draw a card.

KEN: Feels like another stapled-card. I didn't see a Darting Merfolk, Timid Drake, or Call to Mind that can consistently combo with the "second spell" trick.

MG: Hrm. Cantrip bounce is very powerful in Limited (Repulse, Repeal, Into the Roil), and this is completely unbounded—it can even target lands, which neither Repeal nor Into the Roil could do. Development would take a long look at this one. It's also cantrip #4, which is too much.

ZH: Okay, we really have to stop drawing so many cards. I also probably wouldn't want to print this card in general, as it's hard to imagine the scenario when you have four mana open and don't cast this spell. What I mean more specifically is that this card really encourages the creation of a type of deck that's extremely unfun to play against: the deck that sits there, does nothing, counters your spells, and bounces what it can't counter. The fact that you can automatically get ahead on a land drop if your opponent's trying to "wait" around your countermagic pushes this card over the edge, for me.

MR: This card feels like it's just filling space. Yeah, blue common wants a bounce spell, but I hope you could find a way to do something that feels like it fits into the set in one way even if that connection is solely flavor. One of my meta notes I realize as I'm going through your spells, is that they don't live up to the flavor bar set by your creatures. Make your spells shine as much as your creatures flavor-wise.

[Primal Knowledge -
Preeminence (This spell costs X less to cast, where X is the highest power among creatures you control.)
Draw two cards.

KEN: The preeminence keyword is nice enough for me. A little weird that some spells count power as a quantity but this card keywords it as a cost reduction.

This keyword text is probably uglier than this. Might end up being (This spell costs X less to cast, where X is the highest power among creatures you control as you cast this spell.)

I mention this because it can matter when judging "prettiness" of your mechanic. Mosstodon and its other 5-power-matters friends used to be much prettier, until we found out the clean version doesn't work intuitively.

"Creatures you control with power 5 or greater have trample."

MG: *cough*Thoughtcast*cough*

On the one hand, cost reduction is a trap; it goes wrong far more often than it goes right. (Wait, has it ever gone right?) On the other hand, encouraging fatties is a good thing, and this has immense synergy with "develop." So I'm intrigued by this card, if scared by it.

What really gives me pause is the use of the keyword, for two reasons. 1) Using a keyword implies that you intend to have a whole bunch of spells with this cost-reduction mechanic, not just this one card. How many would be in here? 10? 15? It's getting much scarier, and it's skewing very Spike, since no one else really cares about cost reduction. 2) You didn't keyword CU14, which cares about the same thing but in a different way. That's jarring.

ZH: Really? More card drawing? I am actually fine with this card as we usually want to give blue one raw-card-advantage spell, but inside the context of the rest of your other spells, it's a little bit excessive. I like the flavor and the design, though, and I like that you're rewarding players for playing with your mechanics (evolve and develop).

MR: I don't mind a mechanic that cares about power. I see how it fits into your set. I'm just not sold on this mechanic that cares about power. Usually by the time you get a high-powered creature out, you have enough mana that getting a discount is not such a big deal. Also, this mechanic just requires players running a lot of math in their head ("What's my largest powered creature? What does the spell cost in my hand? How much mana do I have out?") that isn't going to create game play worthy of the mental energy. I like where you're going, but I'd explore some other mechanic designs.


One of my transformative experiences playing Magic was piloting a mono-blue storm combo deck. I wanted to capture some of that feeling of casting a bunch of small spells to build up to some reward with Develop, blue's version of the Evolve mechanic. Flavor-wise, it represents species adapting to the constant presence of magic spells being cast by the Planeswalkers who are meddling with Epolith's development.

At this point, my thinking is that each color will have a separate ability word representing a unique trigger that adds +1/+1 counters. Later sets in the block will keep the same ability words and triggers in each color, but have other abilities, as giant dinosaurs will be extinct or in decline by then.

All of these +1/+1 counters and giant dinosaurs suggested that power should matter in other ways, hence the Preeminence keyword. My thought is that if "X" is always "your most powerful creature's power," it should be easier to get a handle on.

I explored some other evolutionarily-themed mechanics. Two cards tell the stories of fish evolving into reptiles, and reptiles into birds, respectively.

Common artifacts will be essential to show the progression from the Stone Age in the first set to the Bronze Age and Iron Age in the subsequent sets. An artifact subtheme like the Equipment subtheme in Zendikar will help this along.

KEN: In summary, the thematic elements in this submission are remarkably strong. Mini-devour food, creatures that grow, and some cantripy things to make it work. Having a large creature can power up other spells in this submission. That's all-around good Magic. The weaker end of this submission are the non-thematic cards.
I liked this submission in whole the best this round. I would be excited to have this designer on my design team.

MG: Overall, I think the flavor is being realized quite well. Many of the cards (particularly the creatures) strongly convey the themes of the set, and even the failed experiments are interesting. Your primary task was to evolve "evolve," and you're doing it. In my opinion, this is an easy pass into the next round. My primary criticism is that the instants and sorceries lag far behind the creatures in conveying what the set's about; they mostly just feel like an arrangement of stock blue mechanics with cantrip riders. While you're high on flavor, you're low on mechanics. Creatures have the five "evolve" variants. Spells have a cost-reduction keyword that hardly shows up at common? The spells need to do more.

ZH: Yours is my favorite design of all this week's competitors. Your commons felt like commons, your theme is largely resonant, and I'm intrigued not only by your world, but by where your world can go. You'd need to do some work on your blue noncreatures, and it's not important to let the spirit of the flavor obfuscate what a card is actually supposed to be doing on its own. All in all, though, great job.

MR: Ethan, you had a good week. I'm calling you the winner for this week's challenge. You did exactly what I wanted to see. You extended your theme in a way that made sense in the new color but you kept an overall theme that makes the cards click together mechanically. Also, your flavor has been spot on.

My concerns are threefold. First, I think you are messing around with a lot of mini-themes. Some are playing out but others don't seem to be going anywhere. You really need to explore what exactly it is that you want. While I enjoy the exploration, at some point you need to start cutting the dead weight to put more focus on what is working. You need to take a step back and figure out your meta-structure.

Second, I'm not sure about your block plan of evolution yet. You talk of keeping your triggers and changing your effects, but I'm not sure if it's going to play out the way you hope. Also, I think it's crucial in a set about evolution to have a mechanic that seriously evolves during the course of the block. This is one of the biggest design challenges of your block design and I haven't seen anything yet that feels like it's going to fill this spot. Evolve is great at communicating things evolving but I don't think it's going to be the mechanic that itself evolves. In future submissions, show me stage one of the mechanic that evolves.

Third, your spells are lagging behind your creatures. You've figured out how creatures evolve. I think you haven't quite figured out yet how your spells play into your evolution theme. The most promise I saw this week was tapping into charm space where spells can do different things. There seems to be something there for you to look at.

All in all though, a stellar submission. Great work!

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