The Great Designer Search 2 Finalists: Jonathon Loucks

Posted in Feature on December 8, 2010

By Staff

Jonathon Loucks


Underground you can spread the light or embrace the darkness – either way there's bloodshed.

MR: Your logline does convey the conflict of light versus dark and communicates that the world is underground, but I don't think it does so in a catchy manner. The "either way there's bloodshed" doesn't communicate much other than fighting and Magic is a game about fighting with magic. My favorite part is "spread the light" and "embrace the darkness" as it gives a little feel of each side. You're playing with interesting elements but I feel you haven't quite found the right spin on it yet.

CW01 - Night Guard (common)
Creature – Human Soldier

KEN: I remember this as "Little Tulip" from Conflux. Not the best vanilla for a set in need of more simplicity—the ASFAN (as I fan my booster pack) of words will be less, but the ASPLAYED (as I fan my Limited deck) will be low because I think tons of players don't like playing with this card. Vanillas can't work their game play reducing complexity unless they are on battlefields.

That is a hint about the overarching problem I found with this set.

MG: Reprint of the Conflux card Valiant Guard.

ZH: Love this creature in a morph-themed set. Great example of a card having "invisible text" (other favorites in this vein for me are Incurable Ogre in Shards of Alara and Glory Seeker in Onslaught).

MR: Seems like a fine vanilla. When evaluating white creatures make sure you realize that this can't count as an aggressive creature (unless your set has a number of power boosting Auras or Equipment).

CW02 - Lightglider (common)
Creature – Human Soldier
Energize – Whenever you cast a noncreature spell, Lightglider gets +2/+2 and gains flying until end of turn.

KEN: Quite the beater. A white Kiln Fiend of sorts. And what Penumbria common wouldn't be complete without a copious dollop of tension? Flooding your deck with energize creatures hampers your saturation of noncreature spells, and vice versa.

MG: This ability is fascinating. In a playtest game against Ken, this was the only creature I drew the entire game. Normally that means I'd roll over and die. Instead, this beater went all the way (aided by the Lava Axe / Stone Rain card you made in the last round). The trigger condition is essentially the same as Kiln Fiend's, except it also cares about artifacts and enchantments (which makes sense for white), and planeswalkers too. It should be quite interesting in Limited.

All that being said, I can't say that I understand the flavor at all. Instants, sorceries, artifacts, enchantments, and planeswalkers = light?

ZH: Okay, energize works for me. I feel the flavor of like a flare of mana spurring creatures toward action they'd be incapable of otherwise. It also feels very "light-side." I think this is something worth exploring, and far less complex than illuminate.

MR: While I have no problem with energize as a mechanic (to be even clearer—I like the mechanic) I don't understand why it's on the light side. This isn't to say that you can't sell me on the idea but the current set of cards doesn't. That issue aside, my biggest issue with this card is that it feels that too much of the weight of the card is on the energize side. This card is designed as if it's landfall, but playing a land is a much easier thing to do than playing a noncreature spell, especially in Limited. Since your trigger happens less often, the creature has to be better standing on it's own. For example, I think this card would work better as a 2/2 that gets +1/+1 and flying. You don't want the card to just sit around until a noncreature spell is played.

CW03 - Infused Infantry (common)
[Shiney Cat
Creature - Human Soldier
When Infused Infantry enters the battlefield, illuminate. (To illuminate, exile the top card of your library face up with "Whenever you would draw a card, you may put this card into your hand from exile instead.")

KEN: Illuminate was my least favorite mechanic from Round 1. Seeing this here makes me wonder if this designer even listens to loud advice from a Magic lead designer, the Magic head designer, and the Magic director.

I hate illuminate.

illuminate sucks.

Please cut illuminate from your set, Jonathan Loucks.

MG: The judges in the last round trashed "illuminate." Your response was to strip the bonus riders off your illuminate cards (for example, "If you own an illuminated land card ... ") but keep the mechanic itself. This was a mistake. Illuminate is a terrible idea.

First, let me state that I personally enjoyed playing with illuminate. It's the kind of mechanic I can grok, and it gives me a decision tree to work through (a little puzzle to optimize, really). I suspect the same is true for you. I suspect the same is also true for many of the players reading this article. But that doesn't make it a good idea. Neither you nor I represent the target audience for this game. We are upper echelon experts. The vast majority of players are not.

Illuminate is the worst kind of complexity. It's not just that the card itself is complex as you're processing it. It's that it makes the rest of the game complex. Once I illuminate a card, my next card draw changes from being the simplest thing in the world (just draw the top card of your library!) to being an optimization problem of a known quantity vs. an unknown, taking into account the makeup of your deck and the likelihood of your draws. Then there's a good chance your next draw is also the same problem, and your next, etc. If you illuminate another card or two, the complexity skyrockets, the game drags to a halt, and the average player drowns in decisions. Dredge had this problem too. It's a fantastic mechanic, and a lovely process, for immensely analytical Spikey min-maxers, but brain sludge for everyone else—and that's bad news, because the latter group greatly outnumbers the former.

ZH: Oh, no. I was hoping this mechanic wasn't still here. I realize you've scaled down the complexity immensely, and you've executed (to a degree) on everything the judges talked to you about last time. That's good. But this mechanic, as a developer, is just not something I can work with. Remember Dredge? I know you're a Pro Tour-level Magic player, and because of that you might remember Dredge as that broken deck that haunted Extended forever until it began haunting Vintage and Legacy forever and really started sapping the fun out of a lot of those formats. But the biggest problem with Dredge wasn't how busted it was. The more fundamental problem was that every single turn, both you and your opponent had to sift through your graveyard and figure out every card you could draw that turn, what each of those draw steps would do to the game state, and how to play around every single one of those consequences.

Illuminate sort of solves that problem by at least having the cards out there on the table for all to see, but the mental calculus you have to do every turn is still daunting and intimidating and excruciating and all kinds of bad things. There's also the operational issue of having to determine where to put these cards without being confusing. Even though "exile" is a zone, there's the kind of "exile" that Oblivion Ringed cards go to (you put it under the O-Ring), the kind of "exile" where Suspend cards live (you expect them to hit the table eventually), and then the kind of "exile" that connotes "dead." In your mind-space, you don't want these cards living in the "dead" zone, but they're also not "fixing to hit play" either, so you have them kind of out on the table in front of your library vaguely. This leads to even more confusion whereby you forget if they're in play or you're about to draw them or what-have-you, and it's all this nightmarishly unfun process that makes me wonder why I'm playing Magic instead of going out to a movie or playing basketball or whatever.

Please, please, please kill this mechanic.

MR: I'll be honest. I was surprised to see you bring back illuminate. I was even more surprised though to see you bring back illuminate without fixing all the major issues with it. The judges last show hammered you on complexity with illuminate being one of the biggest culprits. So what did you change? You restricted the exiling to the top of the library, you removed all effects that referred to what was being or has been exiled and you got rid of the counter that marked which cards get exiled by this effect. You left though what I feel is the most complex thing about the mechanic though—the card drawing option.

As I've talked about in my column, there are two different types of complexity: card comprehension and play comprehension. The first is: Does the player understand what the cards does? The second is: How hard is it for the player to absorb and use what the card does? The card drawing aspect is of the second type of complexity. Let's walk through what I'm talking about. You illuminate a card. Now whenever you draw a card you have to decide which you value more: Card A (the exiled card) or an unknown card. As you illuminate more, the decision just gets more complex. Do you want Card A, B, C, D, or an unknown card.

I assume that you find this decision to be fun, but experience has shown me that you are in the minority. Playtesting has only reconfirmed this for me. It turns the game into mental processing rather than just playing. The reason we've been so hard on complexity on the commons is because we've been trying hard to keep the game about having fun and not about monitoring endless factors.

Just so there's no misreading this week's comments let me join in with my fellow judges:

Jonathon Loucks, remove illuminate from your set.

CW04 – Lightspeed Lookout
Creature – Human Scout
When Lightspeed Lookout enters the battlefield, you may look at target face-down creature.

KEN: To me this card loudly wants to be 2/3 for maximum morph ambushing. 2/3?

MG: This is a good representation of light (you see the unseen), and white has done this before (Aven Soulgazer). It's also a common flash creature with a body for combat and an ability that can change the combat math. The only card that fits that description in Standard is Haze Frog, and that costs 5 mana. This is another card that's simple enough to read and understand, but complex in game-play ramifications; we don't really do cards like this at common anymore.

This card also fits into the Venerated Teacher category of "rules text that makes no sense out of context." If you see the card within its set, it should make sense, but it's a bizarre line of text otherwise. At least Venerated Teacher helped your own deck, so you'd know that you want it around. This card's second ability is both restrictive and reactive, yet you'd always main-deck the creature in your Limited white decks because it's a 2/2 flash creature, meaning its ability will be present even when irrelevant.

ZH: So "information-gaining" isn't something appealing enough to do over and over again, but I don't mind one or two of these to say "Look, this thing emanates light, so it can see hidden things." That said, the interaction between "flash" and "peek at a face-down creature" is sort of weird. Why am I going to wait for my opponent to untap mana to do this? At that point, he or she might just be flipping a creature and letting me "look at it" when it kicks my butt. I understand intellectually that your "trap"-like morph flip conditions render this card more useful than it might be otherwise, but in practice it doesn't really work out that way.

MR: The reason we gave you white this week was that we knew you needed to figure out the light side of your world. The dark side had a lot more meat to it and we felt you should spend some time figuring out how the light side was going to work mechanically. This card symbolizes where I feel you are right now. It has flavor. I see what you're trying to do, but it lacks oomph. It's just there. In addition, it can't exist in a vacuum. It needs the dark side to exist to give it meaning.

I like the light/dark dichotomy. It is one of the things that has real punch that attracted me to your world in the first place. But I don't feel like you've "found" the light side yet. The light side can't just exist. It has to have a personality and a feel. Players have to want to build light side decks. I would look at Scars of Mirrodin as a model as it has a two-faction set-up where the two sides are at war with one another (although to be fair in Magic two-faction sets will pretty much always have the two sides fight one another). Note how each side has a very clear mechanical identity by itself. Then on top of that there is a built in conflict that makes you understand not just why they are fighting but also how they are fighting. The two factions actively have their own tools and weapons and then you can see how each are using those tools to fight the other. Your set needs more of this.

CW05 – Lightspear Charger (common)
[Dynamo-Shield Sentinel
Creature - Human Soldier
Energize – Whenever you cast a noncreature spell, prevent all damage that would be dealt to Lightspear Charger this turn.

KEN: 3/1 is a pretty weird white common. Perhaps just a big toughness bonus here so that 5+ power creatures might matter? The bonus would stack then in a way that might matter.

MG: Every instant you've got doubles as a damage prevention spell for this creature, so combat becomes a complex mini-game. You have mana untapped, two cards in hand, and you attack with this creature. Is it a bluff? Does your opponent have to suss out what you might be holding? What about the other way—can your opponent attack into this? Sure, combat frequently works like this because either player may be holding a Giant Growth or the like. This just amps it up.

ZH: This creature played well, and there's more depth to it than it seems at first. I'm wondering, however, if "noncreature" should just be changed to "instant or sorcery" to give more of a feeling of a flare of energizing power. It also conveys that what you want to do with this creature is utilize an instant as a combat trick, and not cast artifacts and render your opponents' blocks unprofitable for them. It also causes a bunch of feel-bads when you cast a sorcery without saying anything, attack, and your opponent blocks thinking the creatures will trade.

MR: How do you trigger energize? By playing an instant or sorcery or artifact or enchantment or planeswalker. This ability only cares about instants and permanents with flash. In general, I think energize wants proactive effects not reactive effects.

My other comment is that I'm not a fan of the 3/1 white creature, especially at common. Yes, we do them from time to time, but it isn't something we should do lightly and I'm not convinced it needs to be done here. (Yeah, I get that low toughness plays well with damage prevention.)

CW06 - Beaming Strategist (common)
Creature – Human Soldier
W, T: Tap target creature.

KEN: I was expecting a well-positioned reprint of Blinding Mage here. I would've awarded a Reprint Selection Achievement for Blinding Mage. Instead there's this "new" card like Blinding Mage with the same concept and everything. How disappointing. Why not just Blinding Mage?

Given there's this 2/1 common tapper, I guess I won't be awarding a Reprint Selection Achievement for Whipcorder, either.

MG: We've never done a tapper with these stats before, so it's a nice find. However, there's a reason we've never done a tapper with these stats before. It creates unnecessary tension with itself. It wants to attack and block, but it also wants to stay out of combat and tap things down. It can't do both. Some tension is interesting, because it creates interesting, dynamic game decisions—but that's what this entire set is about, and it's way too much. Not everything has to be a razor-thin decision. Not everything should maximize elite play skill; if it did, 80% of players might as well quit. Sometimes a tapper just needs to tap things. This would have been a beautiful, flavorful opportunity to simply reprint the light-oriented Blinding Mage.

ZH: Love this creature for the same reason I love Cephalid Looter. Cool card.

MR: This is an example of a "light" card that works for me. You have a mini-theme of tapping and that does feel very light flavored. I like the idea of light as a weapon and it seems to be the area that, to me, shows the most promise for design space.

CW07 - Frontliner (common)
Creature – Human Knight
First strike

KEN: I like this costing . Being too generous on first strikers can lead to unbreakable walls of first strike damage.

It's strictly worse than Kitsune Blademaster, Ballynock Cohort, Benalish Knight, and Benalish Lancer (all of which are 2/2's with first strike and an extra ability), but for simplicity's sake, it's a fine white common.

ZH: This creature could cost basically anything and have any set of stats ( 1/1 to like 3/3), so I don't understand why you chose to make it the fourth consecutive creature at common.

MR: A nice simple French vanilla creature. The only improvement is that I wish the card could do a little more with flavor (name and creature type) to help inform me of your world. It's a tiny complaint, but I see other designers doing this well.

CW08 – Roofglide Moth (common)
Creature – Insect Scout
W: Look at the top card of your library.

KEN: Is this text and ability pulling weight? Little trinket text can be fine. We've recently been erasing things like this off of cards. It's getting harder and harder to find a Goblin Balloon Brigade or Beacon Behemoth that competes with mana on the board for cards in your hand.

I feel there's a decision point when I elect to curve out and forfeit a flying damage with my Goblin Balloon Brigade. I doubt I'd feel there's a decision in using Roofglide Moth to peek at my top card or spending that mana on anything else.

MG: This is a color-pie bleed, since this is a blue ability. I can see it in white as a representation of light, though. But this isn't really here to be top-down flavor; it's here for its synergy with illuminate. More knowledge = better decisions.

ZH: This creature's stats felt about right, and I enjoyed the time I was able to use this ability to set up a savage Illuminate Bolt. That said, my feelings about the illuminate mechanic aren't ambiguous, and I hope it doesn't stay. Still, given that it does exist, this card is designed well.

MR: One of the aspects of light that you presented in your original design test is the idea that it represented knowledge (while dark was mystery, a.k.a. lack of knowledge). I know this is what got you to illuminate. I agree that there is potential there but you have to answer a few questions first. If light uses knowledge to their advantage, how do they do this? I like that this card can let you know the top card of your library, but to what end? Is it just about knowing the future or is there some larger picture it ties into? Also, as Gottlieb pointed out, this ability is blue not white.

Assuming that peeking at the library is important enough to the overall theme that we bleed it into white (and we have in the past), I like this card but only if it exists in a world where it matters. This card has good flavor and is a clean way to show a card gleaning information, but I feel like it doesn't yet have a world around it that justifies it.

CW09 – Focused Healer (common)
Creature – Human Cleric
Energize – Whenever you cast a noncreature spell, you may gain 2 life.

KEN: Quite defensive. Watch out for too much defense in white common.

MG: Yes! A non-decision-intensive card! Thank you!

ZH: Good stats, good ability, straightforward execution.

MR: This is my favorite energize effect so far. It doesn't matter when you play the spell so it properly rewards you for any noncreature spell. I also like the body. Just be careful not to have too many high toughness creatures that it gums up the board.

My other note is that three energize creatures seem too many. In Zendikar, each color only had two landfall creatures in common (and one landfall quest enchantment) and that is the mechanic most comparable to energize.

CW10 – Mirrorwing Brigade (common)
[Mirror Brigade
Creature – Human Soldier
When Mirrorwing Brigade enters the battlefield, you may tap target creature.

KEN: Quite a beater, perhaps there's too much defense. Also, I don't think this set should have two six-drop white common creatures.

MG: Love it. Six mana is an appropriate cost for a common 3/3 flyer, tapping a creature fits into established representations of "light" in white, and it's a virtual French vanilla. Good.

ZH: I like the flavor of "blinding light" connoting tapping a creature for value. It's weird to me, however, that there's a gaping hole in the five-slot when this creature clearly could cost five mana. Good card on the whole, however.

MR: As I said on CW06 [Beaming Strategist], I think tapping is a cool way to use light, especially in white. It allows light to be used proactively as a weapon rather than passively just gathering information. I would like to see more cards with this feel (although that is not saying make more tapping with white cards, at least not at common).

CW11 – Deepstone Wall (common)
[Rock-solid Wall
Creature – Wall
Dig 2 (2, Discard this card: Reveal cards from the top of your library until you reveal a land card. Put that card into your hand and the rest on the bottom of your library in a random order.)

KEN: I liked dig well enough before. I also like Walls.

MG: Another good one. I like dig, I like seeing it on high-cost cards (as was done with landcycling), and I consistently like its top-down flavor executions.

ZH: I love the dig mechanic; it's basically upside landcycling, and I liked it in red as well. I'd probably give this wall a third point of power for value, but in general I like where it's at.

MR: I have mixed feelings about dig. It's very flavorful and sets need a smoothing mechanic. My worry though is that I'm not sure what role it's playing in the big picture. You have a conflict but I'm not sure where dig fits in it. I also don't quite get from your set why everything is underground. Note that it's not necessarily important to explain how you got there but I do want a sense of what matters in this world. Is digging a good thing because people want to go farther underground or is it a bad thing because they miss the world they were forced to leave. Being that light is up and darkness down, it does seem clear that the different sides have different thoughts about going further underground.

As a card unto itself, I like how it's using the lessons learned from cycling. This is definitely a card that you are willing to trade early game for mana but you are happy to keep in the later game. I guess I'll say it's a rock-solid design and move on.

CW12 – Pinpoint Ray (common)
Pinpoint Ray deals 2 damage to target attacking or blocking creature.

KEN: How about 3 damage? Seems like a good opportunity to make a promotable card. Combat Bolt can be in an über cycle with Lightning Bolt and Leaf Arrow.

MG: We've never been this blatant about it, but I think White Shock (Whock?) is legit.

ZH: Again, good numbers in morph-world. Well done.

MR: More light as a weapon, which I like. It seems like a simple spell that could play well in Limited.

CW13 – Cover Up (common)
Put target enchantment on the bottom of its owner's library.

KEN: Fine. Has thematic justification that keeps it from being just "new for newness's sake." We've decided new for newness's sake is not a strong reason to print a weird card.

MG: There's a "bottom of library" theme seen on a few white cards. My initial reaction to it was quite positive—I recognized that you didn't want to exile cards because illuminate existed, and putting cards on the bottom of the library was a clever, flavorful thing to do in an underground-themed, light/dark set. After all, what place is darker than all the way at the bottom of someone's library, buried under all those cards? Then Rosewater pointed out to me that this was happening on the light-themed cards, and it all fell apart. This is a very dark thing to do. If you can justify this here, I'm all for it, but right now it feels like a huge flavor disconnect.

ZH: Why is this not just Demystify? "Demystify" in fact is a great word to connote, "The light is going to rain truth onto the shadow," or whatever. Plus the bottom-of-library operation is kind of awkward to begin with. This feels different for being-different's sake. I guess if what you want to do is avoid exiling cards because it's confusing with illuminate, bottom-of-library-ing them is a suitable way to do that. But that, to me, just brings up one more problem with illuminate: it worsens the rest of your set.

MR: It seems like the dark side is the one to banish things to the bottom of the library. I'm not really sure what this card is doing. It feels like a tweak for the sake of a tweak and it doesn't seem to have any larger role in the set.

CW14 – Lighten the Load (common)
Gain 4 life.
Illuminate. (To illuminate, exile the top card of your library face up with "Whenever you would draw a card, you may put this card into your hand from exile instead.")

KEN: Here's that illuminate mechanic again. At least this just gains 4 life. It doesn't care about illuminated white cards you own or the highest converted mana cost among illuminated cards you own.

MG: Thinking of the Magic Online interface for all those draws ...

ZH: I think I made my thoughts on illuminate clear earlier. It's worth saying, though, that at least you did it on a Grizzly Bears and a straightforward life-gain spell, so you're taking steps in the right direction.

MR: See all my illuminate comments above. As far as this card goes, I wish the card did a little better job of selling me on how these two parts go together. I won't call this "hot glue gun design" as I sense the two pieces can work together but I don't think this execution really sells it.

CW15 – Diffused Shackles (common)
Enchantment – Aura
Enchant creature
Whenever enchanted creature becomes tapped, put it on the bottom of its owner's library.

KEN: An Aura engineered to combo with all the tapping. They will just sit their creature on defense for the rest of the game ... unless you have a tap effect. Then you don't have to run over their creature.

MG: Should be a black card. Black can destroy things when they become tapped (see Brink of Disaster), and it makes total sense for black to bury things deep undergro-- er, underdeck.

ZH: Okay, this is kind of neat. I like that you get a Cessation-type of effect out of the card by itself, and that effect can turn into removal with white's tapping subtheme. I don't know whether it's a feature or a bug that, if you have shuffling effects, the correct thing to do is attack this to the bottom of your own library and try to draw it again, which is why I wish illuminate was dead so this could just say "exile." Cool vision.

MR: Here's another white card that banishes things to the bottom of the library. You say you're doing this to avoid exiling things to lesson confusion with illuminate, but I feel that it is creating some mixed flavor messages. Also, as Zac has pointed out when you keep having to warp things in a way you wouldn't normally just to accommodate a mechanic, it's time to rethink if that mechanic is worth it. For illuminate ... well, you know.

CW16 – Diffused Bracers (common)
Enchantment – Aura
Enchant creature
Enchanted creature gets +1/+1 and has "Whenever this creature attacks, you may tap target creature."

KEN: More tapping stuff. Is there something else compelling light can do? I'm starting to think, "No."

MG: The tapping may get a little overbearing in numbers (playtesting would bear that out), but I'm okay with Seasoned Marshal's Embrace. Looking at all the tapping in common white, there's a full-on tapper, a one-shot ETB tapper, and this, which works only to clear out a blocker, not shut down an opponent's attack turn after turn. That seems like a well thought-out implementation of a tapping theme.

ZH: This played really well, and I like giving white moderately-playable cards that allow it to go on offense with its smaller creatures. It also fits into the "light" and "tapping" subthemes. Nice job.

MR: I like this Aura a lot. It is flavorful, fits the light theme and played well in the playtest. Good job. Is three tapping cards okay? Maybe, if it's an important theme. You also broke up the types of cards it appears on, so I think three is probably okay provided it's a key part of your set.

CW17 – Expose (common)
If target creature is face-down, put it on the bottom of its owner's library. Otherwise, put it on top of its owner's library.

KEN: I'm getting that light really hates face down creatures. I don't think this really needs an extra mana tacked onto it over Excommunicate.

MG: This is the second anti-morph card at white common, which may be one too many. In general, the set should encourage players to play morph, not punish them for doing so; too much punishment and the mechanic ceases to be fun. Like the other card, this reads bizarrely in a vacuum, but at least this is a bad card outside of a morph block. (That's a good thing; it limits the exposure of the nonsensical-out-of-context rules text.)

ZH: Something about these two lines of text really, really works for me. I can't explain why I love this card, but I do.

MR: In the color pie, white is allowed to bounce its own permanents to its own hand, so the second half is out of white's color pie. The first half I guess is allowable but as I said above, I'm not sure sticking things on the bottom of the library feels like a "light" thing.

CW18 – Uplifting Sight (common)
Sorcery - Beacon
Target creature gets +2/+2 and gains flying until end of turn.
You may reveal cards from the top of your library until you reveal a Beacon card. Put that card on top of your library and the rest on the bottom of your library in a random order.

KEN: Here we have something genuinely new. I was hoping illuminate would have been reduced to something like this, not sitting there in addition to this. The "may" is well placed so players don't reveal their decks to each other in Limited. However, there's a bit of a memorization requirement—did you count correctly two Beacons or three in your draft deck? Do you remember what it was?

There's a bit of cascade here, except that cascade works with all other cards and preserves the drama of the draw step. I'm skeptical of this Beacon mechanic, but maybe its purpose is to influence drafters with different ways to draft.

MG: This set is like a Rube Goldberg contraption. This is a deeply hidden "energize" enabler, and by enabler, I mean unreasonable turbo-charger. You know what enables "energize?" Noncreature spells! That should be enough, without needing to deterministically set up your upcoming draws (wait, isn't that what illuminate is already doing?) so you can go off with guaranteed "energize" hits for the rest of the game.

ZH: Okay, I gather there's supposed to be something this card is doing that encourages me to play a lot of these, and I imagine they'll be present in the other "light"-themed colors. I guess they let me keep my "energize" cards online all the time? That's cool, but the issue is that Sorcery Bad Angelic Blessing makes me actively never want to draw another one again because it's such a weak card. So why in the world does its mechanic allow me the coveted opportunity to draw yet another one of these creatures on the very next turn? And it requires that I put several of these into my deck to begin with!

This mechanic is challenging because a) you don't want to make these too powerful, because then you just "buyback" the Beacons every turn and it's miserable, but b) you don't want to make these too weak, because then they never actually do anything. My gut is that this mechanic wouldn't work out. You get points for vision—again, I see what you're doing with energize—but I don't think this is quite what you want.

MR: I understand you're trying to enable energize, but for a designer chided last show for complexity you seem awfully brave sticking more complex stuff in your set. Yes, this is no morph or living reflection or illuminate but it is a mechanic that makes you have to think about how a class of cards all work together.

In addition, I don't understand what role this mechanic plays in the larger set. As I've already said, I'm still trying to wrap my brain around why energize is a "light" mechanic. Now we have a mechanic to enable the questionable mechanic. This mechanic has even less flavor tie. I worry you felt your set was missing something so you came up with something else to add to it. Let me stress that your problem is not one of underfilling your set.


Energize is my shot at a simple light mechanic. Light has magical power, and embracing darkness means giving up that power and finding other means (morph). The light side, however, is strengthened by the immaterial.

Where energize is the energy aspect of light, illuminate is the information aspect. I boiled illuminate down to its simplest form. Without the light counter it's even more important to avoid exiling cards by other means - the bottom of the library is a flavorful alternative.

I recognize the beacon is my most complicated card. The idea is that there is a cycle of common beacons (minus a black one) in each set, and they're a tool to keep energize cards active. I templated it similarly to dig to not only keep similar flavor, but to add randomness to a type of mechanic that is usually repetitive (see: retrace).

Tapping is a simple mechanic that has been associated with light in the past, so I made it a sub-theme in white.

White wants to interact with morphs, but it's difficult to do so simply and without being too parasitic. I made sure my common morph-referencing cards were still useful without a morph on the table.

Living Reflection didn't make the cut. I like Dig and I wanted to give illuminate another chance, so something had to go. Depending on how the set evolves, I could see some form of Living Reflection at uncommon.

KEN: In summary, this designer has addressed some of the egregious problems with his first submission, but seeing illuminate making the cut has me questioning what universe this designer lives in. We'd all like to live where we can disregard instructions from the lead designer, head designer, and director. Is there real estate for sale in that universe?

Maybe I should be louder.

It feels like this designer is solving his personal critiques with Magic than designing a game everyone can enjoy.

It's like this designer looked at American Football and concluded ...

  1. Scoring is too infrequent for an optimal spectator sport.
  2. There isn't enough tension; most game mechanics reward moving the ball forward (touchdown).

... then invented his personal rule to solve his personal problems with the game:

  1. Whenever a team kneels the ball at the line of scrimmage, that team scores 1 point.

Does this rule solve the above problems? Yes. Scoring is more frequent and the choice between moving the ball forward or not has tension.

However, that doesn't change the fact that teams kneeling the ball infinitely will deflate excitement from football, undermine viewership and ticket sales, ultimately ruining the sport. When your revenue stream is Joe citizen, the game needs to cater to Joe citizen's wants.

Since Magic's revenue stream is Joe gamer, the game needs to cater to Joe gamer's wants. Not Joe Magic designer.

MG: Step 1: You need to understand that you are not the target audience.
Step 2: You need to learn how to design cards for the actual target audience.

If we compare this card set to the set you turned in for the last exercise, you've made great strides in toning down your complexity levels. However, if we compare this set to everyone else's set, you're still the most complex! And a lot of it is hidden complexity that manifests itself not on ungrokkable cards, but within actual gameplay—gameplay that's optimized for an optimizer who revels in deep decision trees, but is unpleasant for a whole lot of players. In my opinion, this puts you second from the bottom.

These cards call to mind the controversial decision to remove combat damage from the stack. A vocal group of players hated that decision, because it was bad for them—could handle the complexity, enjoyed it, and even used it to their advantage. But sixteen months after making that change, Magic is more popular than ever. It's not solely due to that, of course; that's just the most evident facet of an in-game simplicity push that has made Magic more accessible to more players. The detractors complain about us "dumbing down" the game, and I'd like to address that. Last year, I rewrote the entire Comprehensive Rulebook. Last week, I finalized decks for M12 Intro Packs. So I know exactly how complex the game is. And the detractors are right, to an extent. We have dumbed it down ... but we haven't made it dumb! If a car traveling 120 miles an hour is headed right for you, and it slows down to 100 MPH, is it going slow? Or are you still going to jump out of the way? Magic is a monstrously complex game, which means we need to constantly fight the current to keep the game at a reasonable level of understandability and playability.

You need to think about these two sectors of the Magic-playing audience: The one that includes you, and the one that doesn't. And you need to figure out, very quickly, what makes the game fun for that latter group. Because what's fun for you isn't fun for them, but what's fun for them will almost certainly be fun for you too.

ZH: So you've done a lot of things right. You cut living reflection, scaled back illuminate, reduced complexity across the board, and explored what it meant to be "light-side" in this world. That said, illuminate is still present and is still looming over your set like the specter of a memory that ought to be forgotten. It affects everything, and affects it in a bad way.

You're not in my top tier this week, but you're not bottom-tier either. Make sure, however, to listen to the judges. You came into all of this leading the pack, but they're improving at a quicker rate than you are. Pay attention. You're not just making a Magic set for you and your friends—players at your level—to play. You're making something that has to appeal to everyone.

MR: Jonathon, Last week you had the most complex submission. You were called to task on it by all the judges, especially myself. My assumption for this week was that you were going to make sure that you weren't the most complex submission this week. If that was your task, you failed. Yes, your set is much less complicated than last time but not enough that you don't still stand out as the most complex. Part of this is that all the designers toned down their complexity, but even in a vacuum, you just have too much going on for common.

Besides the complexity issue, there's the "light" identity issue. You seem to be attacking the problem from several different vantage points but I still don't feel as if the "light" side has a coherent mechanical identity. (For that matter, I think the dark side, while further along also needs some help.) I feel like you need to pull back a bit to better get a sense of your overall design. You have a cool concept and I love the dichotomy of your conflict, but you haven't yet lived up to your concept in your execution.

When I look down deep, I see a lot of good ideas. You clearly have some design chops, but the point of GDS2 is not to test card construction but to test vision. You need to figure out what the core of your vision is and then build your set up from that. I feel like you're trying to make cards that feel light or feel dark without having a larger sense of what light and dark mean to you.

Ethan Fleisher's set has really taken off since he grafted onto the evolution theme. You need to find your theme and build on it. Start with light versus dark. What does that conflict mean? What are the two sides really fighting about thematically? Once you find that theme, use it as the center to build your set around. I know you can do it.

And one last time—watch your complexity!

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