The Great Designer Search 2 Finalists: Ethan Fleischer

Posted in Feature on February 9, 2011

By Staff

Ethan Fleischer


Tooth and Claw

MR: This card name makes me think of a Tempest card, but not allowing old card names is too high a bar for Intro Deck names so that isn't an issue. The name is pretty evocative although the connection to dinosaurs might be above the head of most players.

15 Forest
9 Mountain

3 Cave Bear
1 Elven Beastcaller
2 Eohippus
1 Fecund Maiasaur
1 Hunting Therapsid
3 Leaping Ornitholestes
2 Megalosaurus
1 Potbreaker Bull
2 Primal Ooze
1 Prosauropod
1 Rampaging Allosaurus
1 Starving Deinonychus
1 Velociraptor Pack
1 War Mammoth

Noncreature spells
1 Accelerated Evolution
2 Comet Crash
1 Deliquesce
2 Lightning Bolt
3 Migration Route
1 Mist
1 River of Fire
2 Selection Pressure
1 Shooting Spines
1 Symbiotic Adaptation

List of Cards

Cave Bear (common)
[Growing Bear by Cardkeeper -
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.)

KEN: Cave Bear is back for Challenge #5.

GTH: Evolve's power is high, and should probably be brought down a bit. The idea is fun, though, and the ones that felt the best to me were the three- and four-mana 2/2s. This guy was fun to smash as a 4/4 the first few times, but it was feeling too easy after then.

TML: This is simple and elegant. A fine card, Intro Pack or no.

MR: Little did you realize how important Cave Bear would be to your design. This card was an MVP in the first submission you put him in and he remains so in this version. Hopefully, this submission has made you see the potential of this version of evolve. It played wonderfully in our playtests and if this was my set, I would clearly cement it as the main mechanic of the set. This card in particular seems like a great spot for evolution.

Elven Beastcaller (uncommon)
Creature - Elf Druid
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, you may search your library for a creature card with power 4 or greater, reveal it, then shuffle your library and put that card on top of it.
T: Add G to your mana pool.

KEN: Stats. The stats are quite low here, I suppose on purpose, to contrast the large dinosaur creatures. Naya has a "power 5+" theme, is the 4+ power here just to be different from that, or is there a conscience effort that the fighter creatures have 4+ power in Epolith?

GTH: This card has a number of fun targets in the deck. Tapping for mana helps offset the fact that you're often missing a land drop because of the deck stacking.

TML: Fierce Empath is exactly what evolve wants. Well done.

MR: I'm not sure this guy needs to have the "4 or greater" limitation. The game will incentivize getting a larger creature and the card costs four already so I think I'd just go with the cleaner non-limiting version. The mana generation is cute in that it helps you play a five- or six-drop next turn. Normally, I don't like mana generation on more expensive creatures but your set has a bigger mana ramp than normal both for evolution and for big dinosaurs, so I think it works here.

Eohippus (uncommon)
Creature - Horse
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.)

KEN: You've solved my previous critique when this guy was 0/1—it required two math operations instead of one to calculate its P/T. You made it better, and Woah Nelly what a smasher!

Mark Rosewater designed Scythe Tiger. I designed Wild Nacatl. I guess it's only fair if every designer gets to create a 3-power creature.

I'm not one to nerf green creatures that attack and block, but what you're asking for here is no jokes.

GTH: The green 1-mana 3+/3+ is here to show green can block, which is something this card would only do when cast in the late game. It also shows that being able to block is uncommon? Honestly I'd think both this and Hunting Therapsid would be the same rarity. Needless to say, very strong.

TML: As a developer, I appreciate that you made Cave Bear common and this Uncommon. That shows me that you understand how Limited Magic works and how selling Magic sets works.

MR: This card also played well. I'm not sure if it's too good, but development can figure that out. I do know that this card was exciting to draw in your opening hand and it definitely helped set up cool plays.

Fecund Maiasaur (uncommon)
[Evolve Splitter by orcishartillery -
Creature - Lizard
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.)
Whenever CARDNAME evolves, you may put a 2/2 green Lizard creature token onto the battlefield.

KEN: When getting bigger just isn't enough, there's baby-making, too. Other cards in this deck are +1/+1 counters-matter, but this is evolve-matters. Perhaps they should all be +1/+1 counters-matter?

GTH: I've bounced back and forth on whether I think this feels rare or uncommon. The unbound dream of evolving over and over reads rare, but the reality is it usually would split once or twice. This general power level on evolve seems good. It's not too cheap to be super easy to evolve, but is small enough to actually evolve a few times.

TML: Evolve triggers are a great way to show me as a developer what I can do with evolve at higher rarities. That said, I would make this rare. Compare to Turntimber Ranger, Master of the Wild Hunt, and other similar cards. Dumping creatures all over the table is something I don't like to do at uncommon.

MR: I like the evolution of evolve. This card demonstrates how you can make evolve relevant beyond the +1/+1 counters. I also like this type of effect because it helps set up mini goals for the player to keep working towards which makes for fun game play. I share Tom's belief that this card should be rare.

Hunting Therapsid (common)
Creature - Beast
CARDNAME can't block.
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.)

KEN: A small critique here is we usually put "must attack" on red cards and the similar ability "can't block" on black cards.

GTH: The red 1-mana 3+/3+ is here to show red can't block. With a combined 3 of these in the deck, they always started the race far too quickly for anyone to catch up.

TML: I don't like having both this and Eohippus running around. I'd pick exactly one of the two to be the roll at a cool Constructed card.

MR: One of the things you're going to have to do is figure out how many evolve cards you want. It's possible you'll have two one-drop evolve creatures in the set but I doubt you'll have three. You seem to be spilling everything in these two colors. Maybe red and green will be the main evolve colors, but if you were continuing your design, this is the point where you would start mapping out how exactly evolve wants to work in each of the colors. I do like that the green one-drop is strictly better than the red one.

It also felt odd to me that this was the only red evolve creature, both because I thought you'd have the ability show up more in the second color and that if you had only one to choose that you'd make it the one-drop. Remember that red is your secondary color meaning that having this and a Mountain in your opening hand is not very likely. If you were only going to use one red evolve creature, I would have made it more like a three-drop.

Finally, the color pie guru in me forces me to echo Ken in saying that "can't block" is black and "attacks if able" is red.

Leaping Ornitholestes (common)
[Perhaps CG06 by Orcishartillery -
Creature - Lizard
G, Sacrifice CARDNAME: CARDNAME deals 3 damage to target creature with flying.

KEN: Holy Leaping Leaf Arrow Lizards, Batman, it's another card I liked from a previous round.

GTH: It does its job, which is to evolve Cave Bear. Since you don't want everything to have evolve, a high-power creature seems a fine way to go.

TML: This begs to be "damage equal to its power." I appreciate that you are giving me green cards that defend against creatures with flying, though.

MR: This is the kind of card that shows you playtested your cards. You've done a great job setting up the "dream draw." The playtest game where I drew Eohippus (one-drop evolve), Cave Bear (two-drop evolve) and this was mighty fun. It's important for designers to create the ability for players to have opportunities like this. (For those that are missing what I'm talking about, this card is a three-drop 3 powered creature to advance the evolve on the one- and two-drops.)

All four of the playtest decks avoided white and blue so the ability on this card never came up, but I did like the general flavor of it.

Megalosaurus (common)
Creature - Lizard

KEN: Rawr.

GTH: The real top-end of the deck, games ended after he was cast but before he could attack. I like how the really large creatures don't have much evolving left to do.

TML: Thank you for paying attention to the vanillas. I try to put three in every Intro Pack. You put in two, and I appreciate that you did. I also appreciate how integrated into the deck this guy feels, as his size means that your stuff is going to evolve.

MR: One of the signs of a strong design is that the vanilla creatures have a role mechanically. That yours also has great flavor makes this a perfect card for your set.

Potbreaker Bull (uncommon)
[Petrovore Ooze by Chah -
Creature - Ox
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.)
Whenever CARDNAME evolves, you may destroy target artifact with converted mana cost less than or equal to CARDNAME's power.

KEN: Why not Ape? Magic has history with Apes breaking artifacts. I think we're hitting the saturation point of evolve creatures.

GTH: There's a bit to process here, because you have both evolve and a tight flavor-to-mechanic connection. I think the story each time it grows is quite enjoyable, but I never saw it go off. I tend to shy away from making Shatter effects so conditional, as Shatter is already such a sideboard/corner-case effect that you either A) don't need it, or B) need it reliably.

TML: From a development perspective, this card is dangerous. I think the biggest conscious mistake we made in Zendikar development was to print Tuktuk Scrapper. If the Allies deck were awesome, this card would have put massive pressure on all of Scars of Mirrodin's artifacts, potentially suppressing their existence in Constructed. Before printing this card, I would want to know that we weren't planning on putting artifacts in the spotlight anytime soon.

This card makes me wonder how many artifacts are in the other of the set's Intro Pack decks. I'm also suspicious of the phrase "converted mana cost" in an Intro Pack. It's a lot of rules-speak for a new player, and could just get them stuck on trying to figure it out. I would attempt to cut this card.

MR: While I'm a big fan of evolve, I'm not fond of this card. I don't want the player to keep from evolving because he or she is waiting for the right environment to happen. We've learned that players will sit on reactive cards because they don't want to miss out in maximizing the card. I think evolve needs to be something you're happy to do whenever you can. This means that you don't want situational triggers resulting from it.

Primal Ooze (uncommon)
[Primal Ooze by Toby or Not Toby -
Creature - Ooze Shapeshifter
As CARDNAME enters the battlefield, it becomes your choice of a 5/1 creature with trample, a 2/2 creature with deathtouch, or a 1/5 creature with reach.

KEN: Hmmm. We do cards like this occasionally. I'm not sure if there's enough of a difference between a 5/1 trampler and a 2/2 deathtouch. My instinct is to remove 2/2 deathtouch option but keep the card otherwise.

GTH: Green is a good place for Primal Clay, and it fits the theme of evolving well. In this deck it's a 5/1 trample.

TML: I don't mind this card as a card, but I wouldn't put it in an Intro Pack. I want people's cards to do what they say, and a */* in the bottom right corner requires more thought than I want people to have to spend while processing their cards if they are playing their first game.

MR: This card played quite well. I'm not sure it needs the creature keywords though. My gut would be to have the options simply be 5/1, 3/3 and 1/5. With evolve in the set, the 5/1 is very relevant and 3/3 and 1/5 also feel like they have reasons for being chosen. I don't think the keywords override the memory issues they create.

Prosauropod (common)
Creature - Lizard
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.)

KEN: At one point in Magic design, we tried not to make common green creatures better than Fangren Hunter. In a set with five common mana Myr, green ends up getting smasher commons like Fangren Hunter as reparations for every other color playing two-drop artifact Llanowar Elves.

GTH: I like the infinite dream of evolve, it can just keep getting bigger and bigger. I bring it up here because this guy rarely saw 5/5, but still reads like he could be a Terra Stomper.

TML: Sure! Note that you won't get reminder text on this guy's trample ability because he is not in a core set. Whenever possible, I try to include a core set card with a mechanic that I'm including so that mechanic is explained on the new player's cards somewhere.

MR: I understand that while the assignment is to design an Intro Deck, the metagame assignment was to show us what you could do to advance your set. Making a lot of evolve cards helps with the metagame assignment so that you can demonstrate what you could do with evolve, but it hurts your Intro Deck assignment. Simply put, I believe you have too many evolve cards. It's good for the deck to have focus, but you don't want evolve to take over to the extent that it feels like it's all the deck does. Also, when teaching, less is often more. I'd rather have fewer unique cards with evolve to help the player get a grasp on what the evolve cards do.

The reason that this card seems like a card to leave out is that higher powered evolve is much harder to make work and thus is much less likely to happen. For an Intro Deck, I would keep my evolve creatures smaller. This doesn't mean the card can't exist in the set, but if you had to pull evolve creatures (and I think you do), I'd take this out (and Potbreaker Bull) and replace it with a 4 power creature that doesn't have evolve.

Rampaging Allosaurus (premium rare)
[Rampaging Tyrannosaur by Shdwcat and CodaPDX -
Creature - Lizard
Whenever CARDNAME attacks, you may have it deal damage equal to its power divided as you choose among any number of target creatures. Each of those creatures deals damage equal to its power to CARDNAME.

KEN: I was recently shredded by Butcher Orgg in a playtest game. Now it has intimidate!

GTH: I'm glad to see the T-Rex as the premium rare. I like that he's all done evolving. For a big stompy creature, he made me think a bit more than usual. The line that he also takes damage made me wince until I factored in intimidate and how it will all work together. I'd bump his toughness up to 8, unless there are specific cards you don't want him to be able to safely kill.

TML: This is a fine choice for the premium rare. As a developer, I love that you made it an 8/6. I think we should do weird numbers more often, and these are just weird enough that I love it. I would probably try to do a mechanic other than intimidate, though, as there isn't any other intimidate in the deck yet.

MR: I think I would have made the "fight" ability (what we call it in R&D) a tap ability. Combining all that damage with combat damage seems to create unnecessary complexity. Basically, Raging Allosaurus "attacks" each turn, either truly attacking or fighting with whatever creatures it chooses to pick a fight with. Separating the two also makes it easier to leave intimidate.

Starving Deinonychus (uncommon)
[Starving Deinonychus by shdwcat -
Creature - Lizard
Haste, first strike
At the beginning of your end step, if CARDNAME didn't deal damage to a creature this turn, sacrifice it.

KEN: Nice flavor design and also responsible for blowout combat phases during playtesting. Normally you can sacrifice a creature to an Arc Runner-style creature to save yourself the damage, but blocking a Starving Deinonychus buys you very little.

GTH: This reminds me of Browbeat. "Take 5, or I edict you every turn." I wonder if this is fun with something like Soul's Fire.

TML: Cute. Once again, from an Intro Pack perspective you are overloading on keyword mechanics a little bit given that you won't get reminder text.

MR: I enjoy this card's design. I like that the opponent has to weigh taking the damage once to trying to chump it for multiple turns. It's clever and it definitely has a dinosaur feel to me. I leave it to development to tweak numbers if it's too annoying.

Velociraptor Pack (common)
Creature - Lizard

KEN: We talk about doing more Simian Grunts in green. Nice to see something like that here. We put only a small amount of flash at common.

GTH: No matter the form, this dinosaur was ending dreams all day. He usually had a free Thrive attached thanks to evolve, and often ended the act with blocking and killing something. That's a lot of action for this french vanilla card. I appreciate the flavor of the Velociraptors leaping out from nowhere.

TML: As a developer, I love expensive creatures with Flash. I would defend this card.

MR: No one ever expects ... a velociraptor pack. I enjoy how you're using vanilla and French vanilla cards to convey flavor. Good job.

War Mammoth (common)
[Limited Edition Alpha reprint]
Creature - Elephant

KEN: We don't really reprint Alpha cards but I'll assume Magic 2014 or whatever yearly Core Set comes before Epolith has War Mammoth in it (instead of Stampeding Rhino).

GTH: This was fun for me to see here. I think there is an interesting idea in your connection with the primitive setting and Alpha. Perhaps a little strange next to Prosauropod, especially with both at common.

TML: I would want this card to be a core set reprint so I get the trample reminder text. Otherwise, it's a fine choice.

MR: I understand what you're trying to do here. You're trying to convey "ancient past" and so you went meta and used repeats from Alpha. The problem with this strategy is that it assumes that the majority of the audience would get what you're doing and based on just the raw stats (how long the average player has been playing and such), they wouldn't.

We messed around with this exact thing in Time Spiral block and what we learned is that much of the past recall went over our players' heads. This doesn't mean we won't do it (obviously Scars of Mirrodin is taking advantage of mining Mirrodin's flavor), but using it to convey concepts like "ancient past" is something we try to avoid.

I do feel that this particular card could work in the set but only because a War Mammoth itself works in a primitive setting.

Accelerated Evolution (rare)
Each creature you control enters the battlefield with two additional +1/+1 counters on it.

KEN: We've killed this card multiple times in design files because it goes infinite with say Kitchen Finks and other persist creatures. While fun on the surface, it's abusability probably outweighs the good times it generates.

GTH: This seems like the perfect name for this card, which is one I would expect to see here. It fits the deck theme while remaining completely open-ended. It also makes me go back over my old cards to discover combos.

TML: This played kind of unfun. Mark played it, and I immediately realized that I was going to lose to it in six turns or so. It might be okay to make anyway, but I don't love it.

MR: I like that this card is a rare card that is exciting unto itself but is also an excellent evolve helper. This card played great in the playtests. Of all the cards in your set, this is probably highest on "you'll see this in print someday."

When Ken says this card has been in multiple design files, it's been because I put it there. I understand why it couldn't co-exist with persist in the same set, but once persist gets far enough away, I feel we could print this card. At least, I'm going to keep putting it in design files.

Comet Crash (common)
[Comet Crash by Toby or Not Toby. The number "10" was shdwcat's idea. -
CARDNAME deals 10 damage to target creature.

KEN: I see what you're doing here—you're telling me your set has a 10-toughness creature. You've one-upped me—my first set had only the 9/9 Terastodon.

GTH: The perfect name for this card, and it is one I definitely would want to see in this set. It fits the deck theme. And again, it also makes me go back over my old cards to discover combos.

TML: We normally do the "big static number" joke on uncommons. This is fine though. Also, I love that you have all these expensive instants-speed effects.

MR: Awesome. This is the kind of card that makes players enamored of your set.

Deliquesce (uncommon)
[Stone-eating Ooze by Chah -
Destroy target artifact or enchantment. Put an X/X green Ooze creature token onto the battlefield, where X is the converted mana cost of that artifact or enchantment.

KEN: This would be cleaner as an Acidic Slime-like creature with an enters-the-battlefield ability that also gave it +1/+1 counters. We like to make green walking Naturalizes often enough.

GTH: Usually this is a creature that destroys something when it enters the battlefield. If you did that you'd want to use +1/+1 counters, which would also play along with cards such as the Auras. Having said that, I think an X/X is more evocative for an ooze than a 1/1 with counters on it would be. This version also avoids the possible "If you do" clause. I feel oozes eating enchantments is odd flavor, but it's been done before.

TML: This is an interesting card in general, but I would never in a million years put it in an Intro Pack. Here, if I can't process the phrase "converted mana cost", the game is stuck. From a Constructed perspective, I find myself comparing the card to Indrik Stomphowler and not being sure which is better. That's a good kind of thing to worry about.

MR: The ooze lover in me recognizes a potential ooze subtheme and gets excited. I'm much happier with this Naturalize variant than Potbreaker Bull. Ken and Graeme are correct that you have to justify why this isn't a creature with an ETB ability.

Lightning Bolt (common)
[Magic 2011]
CARDNAME deals 3 damage to target creature or player.

KEN: Here's where things start to get a little out of control. Lightning Bolt is monstrously powerful in Intro Pack battling, killing players and 5-drops.

GTH: This is another fitting connection to Alpha and a primitive setting. From an Intro Deck perspective, this is one card that I could see omitting. If you opt for a 2-3 mana variant, tuning the deck to include Lightning Bolt can be one of those easy upgrades that makes you feel smart.

TML: Sure!

MR: See my comments on War Mammoth. This slot is fine as a cheap direct damage spell but I doubt it would be Lightning Bolt (at least if this set came out next fall).

Migration Route (common)
[As far as the eye reaches by Toby or Not Toby -
Search your library for one or two basic land cards, reveal them, then shuffle your library. Put one onto the battlefield tapped and the other on top of your library.

KEN: Better-than-Rampant Growth is not really design space that needs to be mined. Rampant Growth (like Cancel and Divination) is good enough for Standard tournament decks to play the baseline effect when there are no other options. This card fixes two colors instead of just one and guarantees a land drop next turn. That's giving a lot away for free.

If this was Shards of Alara with a 3-color theme then maybe ok to all that. We printed Cultivate in the same set as the Titans on purpose. I don't like what this Migration Route card is proposing, given that we have to make cards for years and years to come.

GTH: I felt this was an interesting Cultivate variant. I'm not sold on obsolescing Rampant Growth, but it did feel good in play, if a bit strong. This deck certainly wanted to hit the higher end of the curve regularly, so I like an option that does this without card advantage.

TML: This reads cool, but was annoying to actually do mechanically. So many cards move to different places. My instinct is that this card is interesting to read, but that interestingness gets annoying once you start playing it in Constructed over and over again.

MR: I found this card kind of annoying to play for two reasons. One, it has a lot of fidgetiness. Two, I often found myself annoyed that I lost my next draw. On two occasions, I needed the second color but had plenty of mana in my hand making the bonus land a drawback.

Mist (common)
Target permanent gains shroud until end of turn.

KEN: We normally don't do this "counter your Armadillo Cloak" kind of green cards. I know Vines of Vastwood can do it, but that's probably an error.

GTH: I would suggest making this "Target permanent you control." Always having the option to counter an equip activation, a combat trick, or some other ability was a very heady situation to work through.

TML: This is not a good Intro Pack card. It's not automatically clear to new players that a target becoming illegal causes a spell to not work, and it's even less clear that they actually have a window to respond to things. Avoid Fate would be much better, because it doesn't require rules knowledge, and a new player can figure out that we wouldn't make the card if it didn't actually work.

MR: I agree with the other judges that we'd probably limit this card to creatures you control as I doubt hosing your opponent's Auras is the point of this card.

River of Fire (uncommon)
[Lava Torrent by Chah -
CARDNAME deals X damage divided as you choose between target creature and its controller.

KEN: The trampling Blaze in the vein of Liquid Fire. Seem fun enough.

GTH: It felt weird to have to wait for my opponent to play a creature before I could Blaze. It sounds neat, but the damage was often split as 0 to the creature and X to the player, again a little odd in feel. I do like the "overflow kicker" aspect.

TML: This card strikes me as weird. I can't figure out why; I'm sure it would work fine, but there's something off about it. However, a new player won't have this issue, and will have no trouble processing it.

MR: I agree that the choose 0 for one target is odd but overall I like the tweak.

Selection Pressure (common)
Put two +1/+1 counters on target creature.

KEN: Seen this before—a creature Aura in disguise. We like these in Intro Packs.

GTH: This card was always very strong. It tells a story and fits the theme. In a world where creatures are accumulating many counters and using them as a resource, I like seeing a Giant Growth that accommodates this.

TML: This card played fine, but ...

MR: I like that you're trying to make your Giant Growth effect fit thematically into the set. My problem with this card is that I worry that players will think they can use this card to trigger evolve. Other than that, I like it.

Shooting Spines (uncommon)
[Exploding Needles by Chah -
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant creature
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, put two +1/+1 counters on enchanted creature.
Remove a +1/+1 counter from enchanted creature: CARDNAME deals 1 damage to target creature or player.

KEN: Triskelion pants! Looks like you saved Aaron Forsythe the trouble of making this card. At some point the Aura will just sit there doing nothing, which isn't ideal.

GTH: I specifically like how this Aura lets you spend counters as you wish. It gives a good dream of enchanting an evolve creature and continuously shrinking so that it can evolve again. As with Selection Pressure, I think it is good to have your basic effects (+2/+2 Aura) actually play into your theme in a different way.

TML: ... it's very similar to these enchantments ...

MR: The thing I like about this card is that it lets you make use of your +1/+1 counters. The downside is that outside of that use, the card reads a little odd. Every set gets a little of that and this card is uncommon so probably it's okay.

Symbiotic Adaptation (uncommon)
[Burgeoning Eggsacs by Chah -
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant creature
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, put two +1/+1 counters on enchanted creature.
When enchanted creature is put into a graveyard, put a 1/1 green Insect creature token onto the battlefield for each +1/+1 counter on enchanted creature.

KEN: Looks like there's a cycle of these +1/+1 counter Auras? It's odd to make Auras that grant +1/+1 counters instead of just being an Elephant Guide. I get that you can put these things on Cave Bear for extra upside, but +1/+1 counters are already their own reward.

GTH: For such similarly-worded cards, these two Auras sure want to be played differently. This one wants a larger already-evolved creature, because it will be stopping most evolution once it's attached. I think I like the game play of Symbiotic Adaptation more, but this has the nice feeling of the "insurance policy" Aura, which is always popular. I might opt to discover which I like more and align them a little closer mechanically, but more play testing would help solve that.

TML: ... which don't even work the same as each other. That's weird. As a developer upon receiving these cards, I would immediately choose whether I liked the cycle or not, cut the instant if I did like the cycle, then I would line up the cycle more. One of them has "remove a counter" to do something, and the other is a death trigger that counts counters. Use one of those for both, and this is fine. If I rejected the cycle, I'd just leave the instant.

MR: Here's another Aura filling the same role as Shooting Spines. My gut is that if you want a number of these that I'd make a five-card uncommon cycle. Each of these would then all work the same to help players grok what they do. That means I'd make Symbiotic Adaption work like Shooting Spines or vice versa. Symbiotic Adaptation has less tension, meaning it would probably be perceived better. In real design, we'd make a bunch of different versions and play them and let playtesting dictate which version works the best.


"Tooth and Claw" is about dinosaurs and evolution. The name is from a phrase by Tennyson, oft quoted by people referring to evolution's savage and competitive aspect: "Nature, red in tooth and claw."

The Evolve mechanic has been simplified into its most basic form, and is now a keyword. Under the Evolve rules, an ability such as Potbreaker Bull's second ability only triggers if the controller chooses to add a +1/+1 counter.

The deck is designed to play creatures with Evolve early on, then it tries to trigger Evolve as many times as possible by playing a series of ever-larger creatures. It includes tools, such as spells that search for extra lands, creatures with a high power-to-mana-cost ratio, and a tutor that can find powerful creatures, to enable this strategy. Having so many creatures with Evolve in a deck is an inherently high-variance strategy, but the deck has enough resilience to come back from a bad situation.

Regarding reprints, playtesting revealed the need of a cheap burn spell, but Epolith's cheap burn spell uses the Dominance mechanic, which is off-limits, hence the inclusion of Lightning Bolt. I decided to include in Epolith a cycle of reprints from Alpha to help sell the "primitive" flavor of the setting. Instead of the weird out-of-color-pie spells we saw reprinted in Time Spiral, these are simple, primitive versions of spells we see in sets today. Of the cycle, only War Mammoth was suitable for Tooth and Claw.

Many thanks to everyone who contributed!

KEN: This deck was overpowered in the playtest. Now, overpowered = fun for most of Magic's audience, but this Intro Pack missed the mark by a rather big margin. More than half the time my opponent took more than 10 damage on a Starving Deinonychus turn. If the rares weren't killing them, the raw efficiency of Eohippus and Cave Bear ensured my opponent could never outcurve me. On top of that, there's red's best Standard card Lightning Bolt x2. Rounding out the burn suite is Terminate and a Blaze. Is this the all first-pick Intro Pack?

I don't believe we name decks with a card's name (Tooth and Claw).

An Intro Pack contains a Booster Pack, but it's difficult for me to find fault in any card in this Intro Pack deck. One thing I'd like to see is an obvious bad card that even a new player will dislike. When I say bad, I mean really bad.

The card's badness should be nausea-inducing to an experienced player like you and me. New players are very forgiving to new cards. You have to scream badness at that volume for new players to hear it.

Why go to such lengths to first make disgustingly bad cards, then include one in a fixed deck product?

If you do it just right, a new player will take out a card and put in a card they like better from their booster pack. This is the behavior we want to teach players who purchase Intro Packs. Every day, new players take this first step in learning Magic deck-building.

GTH: The evolve mechanic has some fun aspects. I really like stacking counters on my creatures, and the focus was strong enough that I never forgot to do so. Dreams of a pile of counters covering the entire card are possible. Dinosaurs and Mammoths are very fun to play out, and I could get into the "Tooth and Claw" feel.
During play it quickly became apparent that the pile of counters will probably never happen, because my army of 3/3, 3/3, and 3/3 (plus a 3/1 dork) would end the game fast. There were few decisions to make piloting the deck. You always make your creatures bigger. One time I contemplated burning a blocker or dropping another creature in order to make everyone big enough to not care.

I liked the power level of evolve best in the area of 2/2 evolve. The one-mana creatures, while exciting, just rush out too fast to enjoy building up. I think with the right cards this mechanic could be done.

TML: Ethan, you made by far the best Intro Pack of the four. You had two vanillas, you had lots of simple cards, the mechanic was grokkable, and the deck played like the same baseline Magic that I want new Magic players to expect.

One of the oddities of Intro Pack creation is that each set we have to make five of them. Some themes are great for making Intro Packs, and others are not. This often leads to one of the decks being the most new-player-friendly and one being the least. This one, after some tweaking, would obviously be the most new-player-friendly of the bunch. Other contestants chose themes that were harder to do, which helped you somewhat. However, you paid attention to details that I think matter, and the deck was fun.

The worst thing about your Intro Pack deck is the proliferation of different keywords. You have a single instance each of haste, first strike, deathtouch, and intimidate. That's a lot of different keywords to learn. I would want you to focus in on one or two of these instead of having one of so many.

Evolve is fantastic. I would look forward to developing a set built around it. Not all developers are so fortunate as to get a central mechanic this good. Upon receiving it in a design handoff, I would be beyond thrilled.

MR: Ethan, you did an excellent job on this challenge. Your deck was flavorful and fun and played wonderfully. Your world is really starting to come together. I hope the challenge also made you realize what you have in your evolve mechanic. It plays well, it brings out your theme, it has plenty of mechanical hooks to hang other things on, and it has a decent depth to allow you to make enough cards. Design is all about finding your diamonds in the rough and evolve is clearly your diamond.

I've been very impressed with your work all through the GDS2. You listened well and you did the work to bring out the essence of all of your ideas. You've created what I feel is the most printable of all the worlds and you did so with great style and presence. Excellent, excellent work.

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