The Great Designer Search 2 Finalists: Ethan Fleischer

Posted in Feature on January 12, 2011

By Staff

Ethan Fleischer


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

MR: I liked your logline last time, but I'm surprised you didn't fiddle with it a little. I might have used this opportunity to fine-tune some of the word choice. I still believe that "where centuries pass in hours" is not necessarily clear that time passes here faster in relation to other planes (although to be fair it's a pretty complicated concept). I also think "only the fittest can survive" sounds a little better than "only the fittest will survive." The language puts it more in the present than the future. Sell text sounds better when the players are actively doing it now. All in all though, your logline is a stone's throw from where you want it to be.

1) Common Card #1 –
Gather the Hunters
[Gather the Hunters 2 -
Put two 1/1 white Ape Human creature tokens onto the battlefield.
If you control five or more creatures, creatures you control get +1/+1 until end of turn.

Art: Two friendly groups of Australopithecuses, clutching primitive weapons, meet in the savanna.

KEN: This is like two white cards stapled together, and we do that all the time. Ape Human, hah! I'm not sure Creative is happy recreating this, but ok.

MJG: I like how this goes in a white weenie deck: I always want more creatures in white weenie and getting two creatures for one card is great. However, I don't like how the two tokens can't benefit from the bonus: the creatures come into play, get +1/+1 but cannot attack. The ability wears off them before they can use it.

MP: Ape Humans! Ape Humans? I'm sure that will matter at some point, but at first blush it's a bit odd. The card itself seems fine, and I can imagine a gathering of neanderthals getting riled up in a group.

MR: First let me defend Ape Human from my fellow judges. This block's theme is evolution. A key part of this is to show the elements of the set evolving across the sets in the block. One of the ways Ethan is doing this is by having things that we watch evolve. One of these is the humanoids. In the first set, they are Neanderthals. The art will do a big job of carrying this message, but I like that he's using the mechanics as well. So, big thumbs up from me on Ape Human. (That said, creative director Brady Dommermuth might hate it.)

I like what you're trying to do here mechanically but the execution isn't quite living up to the concept. The idea of creating tokens and then having a rider that rewards you for having more creatures has promise. The problem is that you're jumping through a hoop for such a tiny reward. In addition, you have the problem Globus raised (I'm using last names today for the all-Mark judging) that the two effects of the card are not completely synergistic with one another.

One of the things I like most about this submission is that you've figured out what your set is about and have really embraced it. Your pack sells the idea of your set very well even if this particular card doesn't do as well a job.

2) Common Card #2 –
Flint-Knapped Spear
Artifact - Equipment
As an additional cost to cast CARDNAME, tap an untapped creature you control.
Equipped creature gets +1/+0 and has first strike.
Equip 2

Art: Spear with a knapped flint head and wooden shaft. Flakes of flint from its manufacture.

KEN: An Equipment that must be manufactured. It's not a huge deal because the equipment would sit useless on the battlefield without a creature anyway.

The +1/+0 and first strike here is very powerful defensively. I've playtested sets with common first strike equipment and I don't like the result. Maybe just +1/+1 here?

MJG: This card feels off to me. Essentially, the first strike makes me think "Fast" and the additional cost of tapping a creature makes me think "Slow." This keeps the card from feeling cohesive and as such I wouldn't put it in one of my decks over another Equipment.

MP: Simple and flavorful. -mana-cost cards are exciting, and this one seems very balanced.

MR: While I like the idea of simple Equipment to let you show evolution through the block, I'll be honest that I don't quite get the "tap the creature" as alternate cost. It adds text, is a little confusing (some players won't get that they can't cast this if they don't have an untapped creature in play) and doesn't, for me at least, seem to capture any flavor.

I think I would have made the first batch of Equipment as simple as possible and allow more advanced Equipment later in the block to do more than the basics. One of the ways to show evolution is by starting simple and slowly ratcheting up the complexity. (Although be careful that your last set isn't overly complex.)

3) Common Card #3 –
[Harsh Language -
Dominance - Target creature gets -X/-X until end of turn, where X is the highest power among creatures you control.

Art: A giant dinosaur foot drives an alarmed bat-vampire into the ground like a stake.

KEN: Squish! I like it well enough.

MJG: This card also has internal tension, but it is a bit subtler. Most cheap removal is good because you can cast it early. However, in order to make good use of this card, I want to have a large creature, which means that the game has probably gone on quite a few turns. All of this means that from a casual Constructed perspective, I'd just rather play a Doom Blade or Vicious Hunger.

MP: All right, I'm getting the sense that giant monsters matter in this set. This is space we've explored before with success in Rise of the Eldrazi, Scourge, and other places ... I'm excited to see the giant monsters now!

MR: Your set has a lot of moving pieces, yet still has an overall simple concept to grasp. The big question mechanically is what elements you're going to hang your hat on. Dominance seems to make a claim on caring about how big your creatures are. This ties into green's evolve, so I could see this being key. To sign off on this, though, I think I'd want to see a little more of your set make this element matter.

As far as this card, I like that you chose what I call a "diminishing returns" effect. That is, you picked an effect that rewards you greatly at the low end but becomes less important as the number goes up. There's not much difference between -6/-6 and -20/-20 for instance. Diminishing return effects are important when messing around with effects that have to slide wildly on a number.

4) Common Card #4 –
Cinder Charm
Choose one--target creature can't block this turn; or destroy target Equipment; or target creature gains haste until end of turn.

Art: A tiny pumice bowl containing flaming cinders and two halves of a broken flint arrowhead.

KEN: I didn't expect to see a charm here. Is it really the best thing you can put in a booster pack? I just made a god pack of "Action" and didn't end up with any card as remotely unthemed/unattractive/unbeautiful as this charm. By all measurements (even word count!), it's a nice charm and all, and perhaps it has the best game-play of any charm ever, but I don't think you can sacrifice even one card in your god booster for something like this.

So, good design as usual, but in my opinion, a poor selection for the movie poster/trailer.

MJG: Nice charm! I'd consider this for a red aggro deck where I sometimes want haste, sometimes want to remove a defender, and having the option to kill an Equipment is just gravy.

MP: Charms are popular among core players, but this one misses the flavor mark for me—it seems a bit "Chinese Menu"—meaning that any one of the three abilities could be swapped out for any other "red" flavored ability. It even uses one of the actual abilities on the first-ever red charm, "Chaos Charm" from Mirage.

MR: This is a perfectly designed charm. The real question is what exactly does this set want with charms? My problem is that charms don't read as the beginning state of evolution but a middle to end state. Imagine, for instance, if set one had two choice charms, set two had three choice charms and set three had four choice charms. Now they have some purpose within the block. Also, the first charms would feel rudimentary as players are used to charms having three choices.

It's important when choosing a mechanic to represent your theme that you have to think of how players will think of it in a vacuum. For example, if you picked mechanics from Magic's past, including charms, and asked players to sort them by whether they felt like the first, second or third stage of evolution, I don't think many people would put charms in the first category. Remember that people equate the past with simpler and fewer and the future with more complex and more.

5) Common Card #5 –
Cave Bear
[Growing Bear -
Creature - Bear
Evolve - Whenever a creature with power greater than CARDNAME's power enters the battlefield under your control, you may put a +1/+1 counter on CARDNAME.

Art: A huge bear, in front of his cave, stands up, towering over two primitive elves.

KEN: I liked this the first time enough to call it my favorite card in the playtest. A happy and rewarding puzzle that increases in difficulty the more you solve it.

MJG: Fun! I'd love to put this in a deck of fatties as an early drop: I can still think of this becoming a large creature some day, and gives me a natural early play. This is my favorite card in your pack.

MP: Runeclaw Bear with upside! Exciting!

MR: I like green evolve and the Bear seems like a perfect place to start in common. Of all your evolve triggers, the green one is my favorite by a large margin. It's very flavorful with your theme, it plays well and it isn't something we've seen before. If I was designing this set, I would figure out how much of this version of evolve I could do. This is this set's landfall, I believe.

6) Common Card #6 –
Hot-Blooded Raptor
Creature - Lizard
Evolve - Whenever CARDNAME deals combat damage to a player, you may put a +1/+1 counter on it.

Art: A berserk Deinonychus, disemboweling a dinosaur with its huge foot claw.

KEN: Sliths are cool. Another designer tried to do something more restrictive than Sliths. Why not just Sliths? This guy kills in six swings. Rewards attacking, rewards blocking, grows permanently bigger, no upper limit. What's not to like?

MJG: This works great with the Cinder Charm—thanks! I'll put this in the same deck. However, the ability word seems overly general for me ... the Cave Bear made me think it was a power-matters ability word and now seems like a catch-all for adding +1/+1 counters.

MP: Awesome art description. Seeing this right next to Cave Bear was a little bit of a letdown though since they're both two-casting-cost cards with evolve, and I was thrown off a little by the fact that the evolve trigger was a completely different condition.

MR: So red evolves a la the Sliths from Mirrodin (or Whirling Dervish from Legends for the old folks). It has good play value and it feels red, so I like it. I like that you started with the simplest and smallest card for common.

My bigger question is whether you really need five different evolve triggers. When every evolve creature had a different trigger, I said that the most I would do is an evolve trigger per color. Note though that I said the most. That was what I thought of as the absolute top end. The goal of any designer is to always find out how little they have to use. I would never use five triggers if two would work. And I wouldn't use two if one worked.

I recommend exploring if the green evolve could just be evolve. If you find you need more, I would explore just one other trigger. If you only have two, then give the second another name.

7) Common Card #7 –
Scavenging Sarcosuchus
Creature - Crocodile
Evolve - Whenever a creature you control is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, you may put a +1/+1 counter on CARDNAME.

Art: A 40 foot armored crocodile swims through the swamp toward a partially submerged sauropod corpse.

KEN: We're saturated on evolve, hopefully. I guess black is filled with Khabál Ghouls. We made uncommon Khabál Ghouls in Jund (Scavenger Drake and friends). I was dubious of those guys at uncommon, so I'll voice my concern of going even further and making them common.

MJG: Meh. In casual Constructed, I don't usually like to plan on my creatures dying, so I don't know what I'd do with this card. Perhaps if I see something that sacrifices creatures I'd be more interested ....

MP: Similar comments to above—the card idea is cool, but this is the third different evolve trigger I've seen so far at common. My complexity level alarm is starting to ring ....

MR: Two notes here. First, I'm not sure you need three evolve cards in your booster. I get that this is your major theme and you want the player to get that each color does it differently. My counter is that it's less important in the first booster to explain everything than it is to create something enticing that makes the player want to open the second booster. Seeing too much repetition, even if there's variation, creates a sense that there's not much in the set. If things are already repeating so much in the first pack, that doesn't make the set feel mechanically deep.

My second note is that the black evolve trigger seems a little off. I get that black evolves based on others dying, but it seems like it would care more about others things dying than its own things. You've playtested and I haven't, so maybe there's some bad play issues, but my gut says that the black evolve wants to trigger off of your opponents' creatures dying. This encourages a play pattern that you want and makes black more flavorful in my mind.

All this presupposes, of course, that black shouldn't just be using the green evolve trigger, which my designer instinct says is probably incorrect. (In case all my double negatives are confusing, I'm just saying I don't think you need the black evolve trigger.)

8) Common Card #8 –
Visceral Augury
[Brain Drain -
As an additional cost to cast CARDNAME, sacrifice a creature.
Target player discards a card and you draw a card.

Art: A shaman inspects the organs of a vivisected sacrificial victim, while a relative weeps.

KEN: This seems like a dumpy card to have in the booster. Perhaps it's doing all the correct zone-changes for the mechanics and color (and Khabál Ghoul), but sacrificing creatures to save mana for card advantage is not something I want to see in my booster, my deck, or my set.

I would expect to see something more like, " Sorcery Target player discards a card. If you control the creature with the highest power among creatures on the battlefield, draw a card." Maybe not that exactly, but something that looks like it at least belongs in your decidedly Timmy dinosaur set.

MJG: Ah—a sacrifice outlet! Still not enough to excite me, but I like how you put these two cards next to each other in this ideal pack! I'll keep my eyes open to see if there is something more to build a deck around.

MP: Magic is edgy, and often violent, but the art description on this one really pushes the boundaries of what we would likely be willing to print.

MR: So much of your set is so flavorful that cards like this, that are more mechanically created, stand out a bit. This card feels like you were trying to cram several things onto a single card. The end result is something that, for me, feels both a little clunky and a bit overloaded. I assume you added this additional cost as a way to help black meet its evolution requirement. There are more natural ways to do this.

9) Common Card #9 –
Primitive Tool-Maker
Creature - Fish Merfolk 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.

Art: A primitive merfolk, like those of Rath or Shadowmoor, makes a stone axe-head.

KEN: I remember this card from before. The Fish Merfolk pairing is cute. However, that kind of creative treatment works great for appealing to designers, but our Creative department will not be micromanaged to this level on cards—don't get perturbed when this gets concepted as a Salamander Artificer or a malleable Crab or something you weren't expecting.

MJG: Blue decks with artifacts are quite popular and I like how this fits in very naturally. I can see playing this card, replacing some other cheap search card like Augury Owl.

MP: "Fish Merfolk" strikes me as odd, just as "Ape Human" did. I'm sure there's a payoff coming ...

MR: Cute. I am curious how many Equipment you're planning to have at common. This card at common tells me it's a pretty substantial number. If your count is a little lower, you probably want to move this up to uncommon.

Also, as a fan of Ape Human, I will also stand behind Fish Merfolk. Nagle is right that this is the kind of thing Design and Development have to work with the creative team on. If Creative isn't on board with Ape Human or Fish Merfolk, it will not be there when the set sees print. The good news is that there is a close working relationship between Design and Creative to try and find elegant solutions that everyone feels can work.

10) Premium Card –
Tyrannosaurus Rex (mythic rare)
Creature - Lizard
CARDNAME must be blocked by exactly one creature if able.
Other Lizard creatures you control get +1/+1, have trample, and attack each turn if able.

Art: Panicked dinosaurs flee before Tyrannosaurus, who catches a slow-moving Pachycephalosaurus in his jaws.

KEN: From movies I know that T-Rexes don't help others. I'd take the last line off and put it on some other rare like Velociraptor Pack. But excellent choice of a T-Rex mythic rare premium.

MJG: This card made me look through the rest of the pack for Lizards and I found that my crocodile wasn't one. Frown. Not only does each card need to be compelling, but they need to work with your other cards in expected ways. I do find the idea of a Lizard lord appealing, but I would expect larger bonuses on such a large creature. With bigger bonuses I would be inclined to search my collection for Lizards, but this isn't giving me enough incentive.

MP: RAWR! In the capable art direction of Jeremy Jarvis, I can see this art being the marquis piece for the set! My only nit-pick about this guy is that he feels rare to me, not mythic rare. Mythic rares are supposed to be among the most exciting cards in a set, and this guy is doing stuff that we've seen many times before.

MR: I like that you realized not only that this set had to have a T-Rex, but that it needed to be a showcase for your set. While I really appreciate the sentiment of this card, I'm not in love with its execution.

First and foremost I don't think your T-Rex wants to be a lord. Nagle is correct in that it doesn't make a lot of sense from the trope. More importantly, a T-Rex is supposed to be an over-the-top Timmy mythic rare. I feel like the current version isn't going to overly excite any psychographic. It's not supposed to be a build-around-me but a card that can go in any deck that Timmy can cast it in. In Magic design terms, this wants to be very modular and not linear.

Second, "Must attack each turn" is in red's color pie, not green's. (Mono-green got this ability once with the hybrid Tattermunge Maniac but hybrid forces more bleeding than normal.) I like the sense you were going for, but the key to a splashy Timmy card is all upside. Make it "have to attack each turn" because the bonus for doing so is so awesome that, of course, you'll attack with it each turn. If you can get T-Rex in play, your opponent should be very afraid.

Finally, I'm not sure if the Nacatl War-Pride mechanic is what this card wants. Why must one and only one creature block the T-Rex? It scares everyone including other dinosaurs yet someone is compelled to block it by themselves? I don't get the flavor and I don't feel like it will lead to good game play.

I really want to like this card, as I believe most of our players will want to as well (which incidentally is an awesome sign for your set), but the pieces aren't clicking yet for me.

11) Uncommon Card #1 –
Initial Half
Poisonous Amphibian
[Chah invented creatures that flip into Equipment, the death trigger was my idea, and this specific card idea was Jay Treat's]
[Poison Dart Frog -
Creature - Salamander
When CARDNAME is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, return it to the battlefield flipped.

Flipped Half
Poison Dart Blowgun
Artifact - Equipment
Equipped creature has deathtouch.
Equip 2

Art: A brightly-patterned Eryops sitting on a log. Flipped, the log becomes a blowgun.

KEN: This card is selling itself on cuteness, and 1/1 deathtouch would be cuter.

You have to meld a black creature and a noncreature artifact on the same frame. Maybe that's super-easy for you to photochop, but I'll mention inventing wild and crazy frames requires input and effort from many other people that normally aren't involved so early in the process. Worldwake has one weird frame treatment (Jace, the Mind Sculptor). Rise of the Eldrazi has tons of new frame treatments, but I'd wager that Eldrazi, level up, and Eldrazi Spawn added up to selling a large expansion's worth of cards.

You'll be hard-pressed to grind everyone's gears over a poison dart gun.

MJG: I like this card. It feels cohesive and tells a cool story: I had a salamander that died, so I made a blowgun out of its hide. While I don't have a good home for it yet, I'm interested in trying it out in a random deck to find its best spot.

MP: Flip cards are a tough nut. Many feel that our past attempts with them have been unsuccessful, and there's not a ton of love for them in the community. They're complicated, ugly, and challenging to build graphically. What you're talking about here is interesting, but it would involve a completely new card frame for a creature/artifact (many hours of additional work by our production team). Is all of that extra work worth it for another crack at a card type that is mostly loathed by fans? This is work we're certainly willing to put in if it supports the card set's primary themes, but the evolution theme could still thrive without this flip-card jive.

MR: When you boil it down, the GDS2 is a job interview. You're trying to demonstrate your skills to convince us that you are the designer for the internship. I understand that this encourages you to make big creative swings to show all you have to offer. With that in mind, I appreciate this card's design. It's clever and flavorful and has a real wow factor. If this were GDS1 where the emphasis was on card design, I would be flowering you with praise, but this is GDS2 where we are focusing more on the big picture and less on individual card design.

Big picture, I'm worried that you are throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. Your block's theme is evolution so you're trying to figure out every mechanical means to represent it. Meanwhile, you are also trying to embrace your prehistoric theme to help establish a starting point of "long ago" to create contrast.

So where does this card fit into that big picture? The flavor isn't really evolution. The frog doesn't evolve into the blowgun. It is showing a change, but is that change the change you're trying to highlight? The unique quality of your world is how time passes so fast. You are trying to show that through actual evolution. That's why evolve works for me. You are trying to represent creatures changing over time.

I can see how this card might make some sense in prehistoric world as it shows the humans making tools out of the tools available. The problem though is that the things you want to establish prehistoric world are more about hitting tropes and iconic images. This is why you correctly identified that you needed a T-Rex. You sell prehistoric by showing the things that the audience expects to see.

Another problem is that you've chosen to use Equipment as a marker to show evolution over the course of your block. If that is the role of what it is doing you have to let it have that role. Mixing it in with other mechanics muddies your message.

This is one of the truly hardest parts about design. You've created something really cool, but it's not enough for things to be cool in a vacuum. Set design is about prioritizing focus and resources and then making the cards that the set needs not ones you can rationalize fitting in.

I'm not even getting into some of the logistical issues this card creates because one, the other judges already touched upon them and two, I believe the problem stems from them not fitting in the larger design. This card is cool and in the right set it could be a major player, but in my opinion, it's not for this set.

12) Uncommon Card #2 –
Herd Following
Enchantment - Discovery
Whenever a creature you control attacks, you may gain 1 life.
Tap three untapped creatures you control: Search your library for a Discovery card with converted mana cost 3 or less, reveal it, and put it in your hand. Then shuffle your library. Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery.

An Australopithecus tribe camps near a herd of Irish Elk.

KEN: So weird. Why does it have an attack trigger, then have a tap cost that whiffs on its attack trigger? We don't make cards like that. It's too much of a cruel joke.

Cruel Joke
Put a 1/1 white Soldier creature token onto the battlefield.
Nontoken creatures you control get +1/+1 until end of turn.

I have no idea what a Discovery card is except more things like Quest for Renewal and Beastmaster Ascension. Also, there are Discoveries that cost more than 3, unlike this one. I would change the completion trigger to something like:

Herd Following
Enchantment – Discovery
Whenever a creature you control attacks, gain 1 life.
At end of combat, if three or more creatures you control dealt combat damage to an opponent, search your library for a Discovery card with converted mana cost 3 or less and put it onto the battlefield. Then shuffle your library.

All that said, encouraging attacking is a noble pursuit if done in a non-cruel-joke-way.

MJG: Yuck. There are no other Discovery cards in this pack, so I have no idea what I could find, other than more of these. This is your chance to show the best a mechanic can offer, and if this is it, the mechanic probably isn't worth it. Gaining 1 life per attacking creature isn't enough to excite me.

MP: Nice, simple card. Newer players love life gain, and I can imagine many of them dreaming of a game where they are able to assemble all of their Discoveries to gain a whopping 4 life a turn!

MR: I feel like you have an interesting idea but you have an early clunky implementation. I like the idea of Discoveries and that one leads to the next, but I feel this current implementation has a few issues:

  1. They're too busy. The spell has an effect. It has a means to get another Discovery. It has all the restrictions that come with getting the Discovery. The first one changes from card to card and possibly the second one as well. That's a lot to grok.
  2. The parts don't feel connected. I can see that the effects care about creatures and the cost to get the Discovery cares about creatures, but that's a pretty loose connection. Add that doing one tends to keep you from utilizing the other and you can see that this card isn't as elegant as it could be.
  3. I'm not sure if it's your intent that I get one of my medium Discoveries out and then go and use it to dig a whole bunch of cards out of my deck. Another way to think of this is will people build decks to use the mechanic not for the abilities of the cards but as a card advantage engine?

My sense is that you have the germ of an interesting idea, but that you haven't figured out the elegant way to execute it yet. A few ideas to help you. I'm not sure the Discoveries want to be enchantments. My gut says that making them instants and sorceries that chain will allow you to do cool things without making a crazy complicated board state. I think you want the Discovery seeking to happen when you cast the spell and you probably want to restrict it to getting just one card. That card will allow you to get the next one. Finally, I think you need to make sure mana is involved in getting more discoveries as mana is one of the hardest things to abuse and this mechanic needs to have some constraints built into it.

13) Uncommon Card #3 –
Initial Half
Feathered Theropod
Creature - Lizard Bird
When a creature with flying enters the battlefield, flip CARDNAME.

Flipped Half
Toothed Bird
Creature - Bird Lizard

Art: A small, feathered Velociraptor. Flipped, a huge prehistoric flying bird.

KEN: Wow. This illustration has to show both a nonflying creature, then upside down it shows a flying creature? A sometimes-flying creature is always irksome to Creative. This level of semi-flying sounds like a very hard creative pill to swallow. I wonder if this designer plans to illustrate them himself (a possibility—even Mark Rosewater is a published Magic artist), doing art director Jeremy Jarvis's job for him. Perhaps this designer can also book all the flights for our Pro Tour competitors and script our Magic Online data logs in order to execute this set exactly the way he wants?

MJG: I can see putting this into a deck with a bunch of flyers. One thing that I don't like is that they don't trigger each other. This would make me only put one or two in my flying deck as drawing a handful of these doesn't give me any flyers.

MP: By this point in the pack, I've figured out that the theme/hook of this set is "evolution." This guy looks powerful and exciting, and unlike Poisonous Amphibian it does a great job of using the flip card design to reinforce your theme (although I have a bit of a flavor disconnect with the trigger).

MR: This is a better use of flip cards for your theme. The flavor here is that one creature evolves into the other, which fits much tighter into your theme. If you want to use flip cards, I encourage you to go down this path. That said, I would think long and hard about whether you want to use flip cards. Used correctly they can be splashy and would get some attention. Kamigawa block though, I believe, did not execute them correctly and as such they didn't go over as well as other mechanics of their splashiness.

14) Rare/Mythic Rare Card –
Garruk Beastshaper (mythic rare)
Planeswalker - Garruk
+1: Distribute two +1/+1 counters among up to two target creatures.
-2: You may put a creature card from your hand onto the battlefield.
-6: Gain control of all creatures with +1/+1 counters on them, then double the number of +1/+1 counters on those creatures.

Art: Garruk holds a sleeping baby dinosaur in the crook of his arm.

KEN: Argh, tension! This card has tension—do you pump up your opponent's creatures in hopes of stealing them with Garruk's ultimate? Tension is not nearly as cool as designers think it is. There are already plenty of decisions in Magic—how many lands do I put in my deck? Do I put (any card ever) into my deck? Which land do I play this turn? Which spell do I cast this turn?—the game doesn't need an additional thick layer via card designs.

This Garruk card is close to being SimCity himself (SimCity with where you just play your Magic cards and don't care what your opponent is doing). Doubling Season is a marquee card that casual players use to build their army while barely looking at their opponent's side of the table until their token army is to their satisfaction.

A Doubling Season planeswalker would be pretty cool, though.

MJG: While this feels much more like a Simic card than Garruk, I know what to do with it: play with a bunch of creatures! I also like how the abilities work well together but that there are multiple ways to play the card. I can either pump my creatures up to be huge, or I can put counters on my opponent's creatures and then steal them.

MP: Yow! Kudos for tackling the most difficult kind of card to design. Planeswalkers are often the most exciting cards in a set, but I've got a big issue here with a blue Garruk. Our creative team has spent several years building this guy up to represent many of the core traits of a green spellcaster, and it's important to us to be able to point new players to him as an example of what it means to be a green planeswalker. While I can see Garruk being drawn to this world because of their accelerated evolution, he just has not demonstrated the patience or intellect to "experiment with long-term breeding projects." While I could imagine situations where iterations of our core five planeswalkers might bleed into a second color, it's very out of character for Garruk to be flying the Simic flag.

MR: I also am not sure why Garruk has blue in him. I assume it's so he can have the ultimate ability, but that's not how we do planeswalker design. We don't make them the color the design needs, we make the design to match what color(s) they are. In other words, Garruk doesn't get to be part blue just because there's a cool thing he could do mechanically if he were part blue.

I think this card works fine if the ultimate doubles all +1/+1 counters. If it doesn't seem big enough, maybe he triples them. I do think your art is conveying the wrong thing as Garruk wants to be seen more training the creatures and less coddling them.

Also, I like the idea of a planeswalker who finds Epolith and uses its advanced timeline as a means to study evolution. That planeswalker is blue/green but it isn't Garruk.

15) Basic Land Card –
Basic Land - Forest

Art: A Carboniferous forest, including tree-sized club-mosses, horsetails, and ferns.

KEN: I've said this before, but I want to reiterate. I feel a lot of full-bore evolutionary themes here that are appealing to the scientists in our player base, but the Magic: The Gathering brand is at its core a swords-and-sorcery fantasy intellectual property. While I'm certain a Tyrannosaurus Rex card can be well-designed/flavorful/popular/powerful, no one can copyright Tyrannosaurus Rex.

If Contact is an alien movie grounded in science and reality, Star Wars is a movie with fantastical aliens, laser swords, magic, and plenty of things to call its own (and copyright to protect its brand). I believe Epolith will need to be more fantastical than it currently is for similar reasons.

MP: I love this kind of world setting. It's one we've hinted at in Planechase and on older cards, but not one we've fully explored.

MR: You picked a basic land to convey a prehistoric scene. Good use of your basic land slot.

16) Token Card –
Bat Vampire
(Black card frame)
Creature - Bat Vampire

Art: A primitive vampire, with a bat head and wings, clutching a bone club.

MP: It's completely illogical, but for some reason I'm very curious to find out how the undead of this world "evolve!"

MR: The choice of token puzzles me. The set is prehistoric and then you picked a token that feels like it doesn't belong in this world. I would have gone for a token that really hit the prehistoric theme like a dinosaur or possibly some prehistoric version of a creature we see all the time in Magic. Maybe you were planning to do that with the bat, but I'm worried that you are avoiding a trope when you could be hitting one.


I decided that biological evolution in Epolith was mostly the province of animals, and technological and societal evolution was the province of humanoids.

Flip cards seemed like a good mechanic to revive for Epolith, as they easily support type and subtype changes.

Most people made their own tools in the Stone Age. The common artifacts cost 0 and require creatures to be tapped. This represents Epolithians making tools out of stones and other available materials, including parts of creatures.

The Discoveries represent technological and societal advancements appropriate to the Stone Age, such as the invention of pottery or discovery of fire. These chain together like the Rebels from Masques Block. The tapping of creatures represents the self-sufficiency of the hunter-gatherers; they, not you, are doing the work. Later sets will use other costs to search for Discoveries.

Garruk takes advantage of the difference in how fast time flows between Epolith and elsewhere to engage in long-term breeding projects.

Tyrannosaurus is the ultimate predator, able to separate the weak from the herd. Sometimes he ends up in a fight with King Kong, though! "Rex" implies that he is a Lord, but this lord terrifies the other dinosaurs, sending them in a panicked stampede toward your opponent's territory.

"Spells that evolve" include modal spells, and spells that care about conditions on the battlefield to determine their effects.

For "the perfect pack," I paired each Evolve creature with a spell of the same color that supports that creature's strategy.

KEN: In conclusion, I find this to be a strong set with a strong designer. I'm most concerned with its ambition. There are many people doing many things to make a Magic set happen, and I think this designer is doing too many things that will invoke the ire of co-workers. I'm sure Jeremy Jarvis would love to direct the best 229 pieces of Magic art ever, then force designers to design cards for those art pieces. But we should all do our jobs, not each other's jobs.

MJG: Some hits, some misses. I liked the Cave Bear the most and I am interested in opening more packs to find more creatures that grow with the strength of my monsters! Having a bunch of these that curve well would be fun.

MP: Overall, I am pretty excited about this world setting. We've touched on dinosaurs in Magic in the past, but it is definitely a rich sci-fi/fantasy trope that we have yet to mine. A giant, slashing Tyranosaurus Rex would be a powerful and engaging image to put on a booster box. This world setting is different enough to be unlike anything we've done before, but still falls squarely into something you would expect out of "Magic."

The idea of evolution as a key hook of your set was communicated very powerfully in this booster pack, but I think there could be more focus, and more simplicity. Modal spells don't communicate evolutionthey convey choice. The second flip card in your pack does a good job of supporting your theme, but Poisonous Amphibian turning into a weapon completely failed at that. I wouldn't expect a dead salamander to "evolve" into a blowgun he's sitting on any more than I would look for my dog "Mouse" to have a litter of glocks.

It's easy to forget about just how complex our game is if you've been playing it for many years, but it's important to reign in complexity where it is unnecessary so that we don't overwhelm new players. Putting three different triggers on evolve at common seems excessively complex to me. It's not unheard of for us to change triggers on keywords—one recent example would be "imprint" in Scars, but even there we're literally talking about four rares and an uncommon in a set of 249.

Along similar lines, I felt like there was never a payoff for adding the creature type "Ape" or "Fish" to Humans and Merfolk. Unless "tribal matters" is going to be a theme of your second or third set (which would seem inappropriate), you're just adding words to the type line with no in-game impact. If you're adding them to convey the primitive nature of these guys, don't bother—the creative team can knock that one out of the park with art, flavor text, and card naming.

I think this has the potential to be a very compelling Magic set after a little focus and work on simplification.

MR: Ethan, let's examine what new things are going on in your set from your booster pack. You have spells that get better if you have enough creatures. You have Equipment with an alternate cost. You have the dominance mechanic. You have flip cards. You have Discoveries. And you have evolve with a different evolve trigger in each color (well, you only show three but it implies that each color has one). And that's not even getting into various other smaller things like charms that are in the set.

That's a lot. Too much actually. While you are showing off a lot of cool stuff, it's time for you to start picking what really matters to you. What mechanics are playing the best? What mechanics are most getting the job done of selling your world and your theme? What mechanics are synergistic with each other and the basic stuff you need in your set?

Another issue is that you need to have some cards that hit your themes but are a lot simpler. I know this pack was showing off your set, but it's interesting to notice that you had to skew towards the complex side of each rarity to do it. It's important to have cool, simple cards that sell your world.

Please understand that I feel you did a great job on showing off what your world is. Of all the designers, I feel like your world has meshed the best into something that players would get. There is a lot of excitement in this booster, but there is also a lot of unnecessary clutter. You have your vision, now you have to find the elegance. Show me your world in its cleanest form.

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