The Great Designer Search 2 Finalists: Jonathan Woodward

Posted in Feature on December 22, 2010

By Staff

Jonathan Woodward


Invasion strikes Utopia -- now the tools of peace must become the weapons of war!

MR: I like "the tools of peace must become the weapons of war." The intro could be a little stronger but a good logline.

Common Cycle:

CW01: Farmer's Charm
[adapted from Farmer's Charm by shdwcat -
Choose one - Put a 1/1 white Citizen creature token onto the battlefield; or search your library for a Plains card, reveal it, put it into your hand, and shuffle your library; or gain 2 life.

CU01: Scholar's Charm
Choose one - Untap target creature; or target creature gains shroud until end of turn; or draw a card.

CB01: Smuggler's Charm
Choose one - Return target Mercenary card from your graveyard to your hand; or target creature gains Intimidate until end of turn; or you gain one Gold counter. (Gold counters may be spent as colorless mana or life payments.)

CR01: Flameweaver's Charm
Choose one - Destroy target non-creature artifact; or add RR to your mana pool; or target creature gets +2/+0 until end of turn.

CG01: Hunter's Charm
[adapted from Hunter's Charm by shdwcat -
Choose one - You may put a land card from your hand onto the battlefield; or target creature must block this turn if able; or put a +1/+1 counter on target creature.

KEN: Charms often come in cycles—we executed Esper Charm and friends as such. A bigger execution of charms were the Cryptic Command cycle in Lorwyn. Common charms are normally quite tame because of the effects we allow at common (i.e. not Day of Judgment, etc).

But these things aren't messing around. When you've already got the option of a Plains, a cantrip, a ritual, a different kind of ritual, what bonus options should you get on top of that? Add is a scary enough card for turbo aggro or fast Koth of the Hammers, but the downside is drawing it late when you don't need more mana. Luckily, your ritual is a charm, so you can blow up your opponent's Everflowing Chalice or get 2 more damage in.

What's more, these are just charms. They aren't like Esper Charm (arc theme) or Cryptic Command (splashy rare cycle) that have a reason to exist and be powerful. Powerful charms are still going to look poopy to many players—some even found fault in Cryptic Command.

Generosity here feels unmerited.

BT: These seem quite strong. My first question is why these, why here? They seem to be supporting the idea that the set is about versatility and finding the right solution at the right time. I'm not sure that's what the set wants. In fact, having each color present so many choices may hurt the mechanical identity of each color that the set is trying to establish.

CBD: Sure, these are nice. The placeholder names are nods to the initial innocence of the setting, although the red one should be renamed (Smith's Charm or something), and the green one would perhaps be better as Ranger's or Tracker's Charm. Charms generally have little flavor, because the modal choices mean you can't pin down their identities as spells in a satisfying way. But, if well designed and well developed, they're likeable enough to overcome that limitation.

MR: I've read your comments but I still don't quite get what this cycle of charms is up to. With the exception of black, these all read as a random charms that could appear in any set. This was an opportunity for you to give a window into how each color was different from normal and I feel like you only did so where Devon had already spelled it out.

As stand-alone cards, these charms are fine, although as Ken points out probably too powerful, but they don't build upon Devon's vision.

Uncommon Cycle:

UZ01: Anunnaki Eraser
[ability from Fanoffans -
Creature - Anunnaki
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, if you control another Anunnaki, exile another target permanent. Return that card to the battlefield under its owner's control at the beginning of the next end step.

UZ02: Anunnaki Infiltrator
Creature - Anunnaki
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, if you control another Anunnaki, remove all counters from target permanent or opponent.

UZ03: Anunnaki Lacerator
Creature - Anunnaki
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, if you control another Anunnaki, Anunnaki Lacerator deals 3 damage to target creature or player.

UZ04: Anunnaki Ravager
Creature - Anunnaki
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, if you control another Anunnaki, destroy target land.

UZ05: Anunnaki Purifier
Creature - Anunnaki
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, if you control another Anunnaki, destroy target artifact or enchantment.

KEN: Here's some threshold-1 ETBs. The hybrid costs will make it easier to actually cast these cards. I sure hope there's three-drop Anunnaki in the set somewhere.

These are the kinds of cards that aren't aided by being in a cycle. For any tribe, we don't make this many threshold-1 ETBs in a set ever. Thoughtweft Trio, Goldmeadow Stalwart, Kithkin Harbinger, Rustic Clachan, and Wizened Cenn aren't all in the same set. Spreading them across all colors makes them more Sliver-y, but they don't have infinite scaling upside like Slivers or Allies do.

Some of these ETB effects are dependent on the opponent anyway, like destroying an artifact or enchantment. That further restricts whether or not you'll get your tribal upside (or perhaps feel ok you missed out on it).

BT: It's okay to have a semi-linear mechanic in the set if it's going to be a main feature. We have experimented with creatures that trigger off other creatures of the same type and I feel they work best at the Allies level as opposed to the Zubera level. The on/off toggle does give you less incentive to grab every single Anunnaki you can. My third and fourth Annunaki do less for me than my third and fourth Sliver on the battlefield. But this says to me that the set wants more of these and it may have to bump out another feature of the set to get to that critical mass. Are they doing a lot to reinforce the set's theme? It's hard for me to tell.

One feature I like is that the hybrid costs make it easier for you build more than one type of Anunnaki deck, which gives the concept more potential legs and variety.

Also, "Anunnaki" is hard to read. Let's have an easier name.

CBD: Quick, what was the difference between Ramosian Sergeant and Ramosian Lieutenant? Maybe you're one of the few players who could tell me off the top of your head, but if not, you can see why you don't want to repeat a word—especially a made-up one—on too many cards. It will cause players to lose track of the differences between the cards, even when they're starkly different, because when talking about the cards with their friends, they'll stumble trying to recall which is which. Anyway, the cards themselves are a mixed bag. Adding hybrid is a high-risk maneuver that could backfire. The "if you control another Anunnaki" means you're creeping into tribal territory, which, like hybrid, risks hijacking the setting. (Also, the Lacerator shouldn't have any black mana in its cost, the Infiltrator has a flavorless and possibly too conditional ability, and flash on the Eraser seems like a crutch.)

MR: I like adoption of Jay Treat's hybrid invaders. My biggest problem with this cycle is that I don't see the need for a second creature to allow the ETB effect to happen. This means that you're always going to start with a miss which feels like an unnecessary downside. My suggestion might have been to have an effect that becomes larger if you have another Anunnaki. This way you always get something but are encouraged to play the invaders together.

Let's go through the cards one by one:

UZ01 [Anunnaki Eraser]. As a big fan of flicker cards, thumbs up from me.

UZ02 [Anunnaki Infiltrator]. My biggest problem with this card is that the white one already does this along with various other effects.

UZ03 [Anunnaki Lacerator]. This effect is slightly out flavor for black, but black has effects close enough that I'll give it the hybrid bleed allowance.

UZ04 [Anunnaki Ravager]. I would have preferred something other than land destruction but it does fit the card well.

UZ05 [Anunnaki Purifier]. I like this card as well.

Another problem with this rider is that I think you want a lot of invaders and you definitely don't want them to have to be tied to this effect.

Rare Cycle:

RW01: Majority Rule
[adapted from "People's Revolt by Kharg -
At the beginning of your upkeep, if you control at least ten more creatures than each of your opponents, you win the game.

RU01: Omniscience
[suggested by Art M. and posted by eve_prime -
At the beginning of your upkeep, if you have fifteen or more cards in your hand, you win the game.

RB01: Vast Riches
[adapted from "Vast Riches" by Kharg -
At the beginning of your upkeep, if you have twenty or more Gold counters, you win the game.

RR01: Walk through Fire
If all players would lose the game, you and your teammates win the game instead.

RG01: Lord of the Land
[adapted from "Back to Nature" by Kharg -
At the beginning of your upkeep, if you control at least five more lands than each of your opponents, you win the game.

KEN: Alt win cards are pretty cool. I designed one—Helix Pinnacle. However, we do them very sporadically. Felidar Sovereign was back in Zendikar. It's square in the Johnny camp. I'll bring up the most obvious comparison—the Battle of Wits cycle (Test of Endurance, Battle of Wits, Mortal Combat, Chance Encounter, Epic Struggle) in Odyssey block. Those were spread across three sets.

We purposefully don't make alt win conditions powerful because it undermines seventeen years of Magic history and expected game play. Here's a card:

The Fittest Survive
At the beginning of your upkeep, you may do 50 pushups. If you do them all within one minute, you win the game.

That would cause Magic tournaments to be dominated by players with a high tricep-strength-to-body-mass ratio. Also, players don't feel very special winning with say infect if 99% of Magic games end in death by poison counters.

Five of these things in one set feel way too many. While a Helix Pinnacle is nice for a few niche players out there to grab onto and try to break, I think too many players would find these to be stinky rares, especially the bizarre red one. Just imagine opening your Sealed deck at the Utopia Prerelease and all of your rares are from this cycle. That will happen to someone in the world.

BT: Alt win conditions always find lots of fans and a cycle of them is a nice idea. The white and blue ones, and maybe the red are cool. The others feel like they are filler. This is another one that might end up best as a three-card cycle. Do these help build the set's theme?

CBD: Pile of loose cannons: Fire! Count me among those that believe alternative win conditions should be a once-per-set sort of thing. This cycle would be better as a five-year-long supercycle (starting with the black-mana parasitic one, I guess). I suspect your flavor aim here was to show that in Utopia, there are others ways to win besides combat. But chucking this many other ways to win in a single set gives the impression of arbitrariness. A better way to achieve the goal would be to pick one alternate win condition, then create a cycle of rares that indirectly make it more possible.

MR: I'm sure we'll do a rare "alt win" cycle one day (Odyssey block did one spread across the three sets), but it's not something we're going to do without a lot of thought. Players like alt wins so it makes more sense to spread them out over many sets. I can see your attraction to doing a cycle here as Devon's world very much has a sense that each color has its own agenda. That said, I feel like this cycle was undone a lot by its execution. Let's go card by card:

RW01 [Majority Rule]. We've already kind of done this with the card Epic Struggle. We try hard to make our alt win cards different from the previous ones, especially because we do so few of them.

RU01 [Omniscience]. This alt win just feels too easy. I like the space you're playing in, but I think you have to make it a little harder to achieve.

RB01 [Vast Riches]. I like how this ties into Devon's world. The number is probably too low, but that's a development issue so we can ignore it.

RR01 [Walk Through Fire]. This effect is a lot more complicated that it seems at first glance. For example, there are often times it seems like everyone's dying at the same time but technically one is dying first. The card also has a bunch of issues in many multiplayer formats.

RG01 [Lord of the Land]. This is another challenge that just isn't all that hard if your deck is focused to do it. The best alt win cards force you to do things that you don't normally do. Ramping up mana is currently one of the most popular decks in Standard.

This is another opportunity you had to show off how the colors work different in Devon's world than they do normally and again you passed on every color except the one where Devon had already spelled it out.


My design priorities were twofold: Clarify the color-based identities, and motivate gameplay by developing Devon's invasion idea.

Utopia focuses on aspects of each color that do not necessitate a fight to the death:

  • White (community): creatures entering the battlefield; lifegain.
  • Blue (scholarship): card draw; activated abilities.
  • Black (ambition): gold; mercenaries.
  • Red (art, passion): flameweaving; one-shot mana generation.
  • Green (growth): +1/+1 counters; proliferate; putting lands onto the battlefield.

I featured these mechanics in a common charm cycle for which each set of choices "tells a story" of what it means to belong to a color in Utopia. The rare win condition enchantments emphasize the values of each color.

For the invasion theme, I chose Jay Treat's idea of hybrid invaders. The hybrid border will make them easily distinguishable – it's almost as if they've invaded the booster pack! Hybrid contrasts with the natives' mono-colored themes, but still allows the invaders to use the colored effects that the natives avoid. Finally, with hybrid, a single invader card can fit into twice as many possible decks; two additional common cycles may suffice for Limited. I gave them a tribal ability that counts whether you control at least one other invader, which encourages including invaders in a deck only if there are enough to support each other. I named them "Anunnaki," after the upstart Sumerian deities, as I wanted a unique creature type for this new tribe.

KEN: In summary, suspect executions of all the cycles have me worried about this designer. I would not keep any of these. There are individual cards I like a lot (Smuggler's Charm, Anunnaki Lacerator, Vast Riches), but as far as cycles go, I would break them apart. Given the challenge was to create cycles, I don't believe any cycles were created here.

BT: I am looking for cycles that convey, strengthen, and evolve the set's theme. I feel like these cycles are all just a short step away from doing that but none of them are hitting right on target. There are some cool and fun cards here, but I wish they did a better job of answering the "why here, why now?" question that all cycles need to nail. There are lots of fun card ideas out there, and as we all know the trick is getting the right ones lined up together so they create game play synergy and flavor synergy together.

CBD: These cycles describe a set that's being pulled in too many directions at once. More than the other candidates' submissions, this grouping felt like a fan's private exercise rather than a serious design proposal. I admire the reasoning, but the execution points to a sort of lack of restraint that inhibits cohesion and identity. I like the charms, but the Anunnaki risk becoming wrenches in the set's gears, and the rares are just crazy talk.

MR: Jonathan, I feel like your set yourself up to do some real cool things to help flesh out Devon's world and then chose not to do so. Your best innovation was to use something from someone else's design. (Note that this is a good skill as recognizing good ideas has great value in design.)

Your comments helped explain to me your reasoning but the players don't get to read your reasons, just your cards, and I feel your cards this week just didn't do the explanation necessary.

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