The Great Designer Search 2 Finalists: Scott Van Essen

Posted in Feature on December 8, 2010

By Staff

Scott Van Essen

Malgareth, the UnderPrison

In prison, you sacrifice your freedom, you sacrifice your life, but you never sacrifice power.

ZH: Okay, I may be a little bit biased because one of my best friends (the author Robert Ellis Gordon) wrote a book entitled "The Funhouse Mirror: Reflections on Prison," which dealt with the complex moral implications of inmate marginalization (among other things). But prison carries a lot of psychological, political, and moral baggage, and at the end of the day just isn't somewhere most people want to spend a lot of time exploring. Why do you want to examine prison, of all places, in a Magic set? What is it you're going for?

Remember also that Hasbro owns Wizards, and I don't know how ready the company would be to green-light something that's prodding at these themes.

It's not that I don't believe it can be done—there's a lot of material there, and a lot of the dark underbelly of fantasy that bubbles up from a kind of Rakdos-like environment. But you need to make sure you know what you're getting into.

MR: This logline sounds cool until to stop for a second to think about what it's saying. I'm pretty sure I'm sacrificing power before I sacrifice my life. I like the parallel structure and I like the sense that you're describing the feel of your underground prison. And unlike many of the other loglines, this one sounds like it's trying to sell the set (I mean that positively). Keep working on it. You're getting closer.

As to Zak's comments, I believe that there are plenty of ways to do a prison setting that would be appropriate for the Magic brand.

Pawn of Angathrak
Creature - Human Minion
Sacrifice CARDNAME, target creature gains haste until end of turn.
Watermark: Prisoner

KEN: A cool partner to the black intimidate creature. It feels like this cycle belongs in other designer's sets to combo with maybe retaliate and requiem with some templating changes.

MG: I like this card. It lets you pre-pay the necessary to give your fatty haste, so you can attack with your six-drop on turn six (for example). Plus, it's usually not that hard to figure out when it's a good time to sacrifice it.

ZH: This is exactly the right cost for a creature with this ability. Good job.

MR: You picked the right body for the effect. If this were sitting on even a 2/2, you'd have created what I feel would be unnecessary tension. All in all, a nice one-drop.

Igniter of lost Souls
Creature - Goblin Shaman
Sacrifice a creature: add R to your mana pool.
Watermark: Native

KEN: This sets off alarm bells. But if you wanted a way to kill your creatures, here it is!

MG: And now I have a problem. These two red common 1/1 creatures both have sacrifice abilities. That's already too much of an overlap for my taste; they're occupying the same conceptual space. But there are further complications.

One complication is that one card is a native and one card is a prisoner. Both factions have sacrifice abilities? Five common red creatures with sacrifice abilities seems like way too much—you noted yourself that players don't like to kill their own creatures. But if it's a theme here, I'd expect that one faction uses it, not both; somehow, something this distinctive would play into the psychological identity of one of them, helping to define how one faction plays or what it believes in. What does sacrifice mean in this world, why can both factions do it, and (ultimately) what's the actual difference between the factions?

Another complication is, well, complication. The fact that this essentially superimposes another sacrifice ability onto all my creatures—many of which have their own sacrifice abilities—massively balloons my decision tree. Let's say I just have CR01 and CR02 on the board. At any given time, I have to decide whether to sacrifice CR01 to its own ability, sacrifice CR01 to CR02's ability, or keep it on the table.

Finally, Skirk Prospector was nutzo powerful back in the day. This adds a mana up front, but in exchange, takes off the Goblin limitation. Thermopod dodged the power issue by costing five mana. This, on the other hand, would get a warm welcome in the Future Future League.

ZH: Okay, I realize there's some kind of sacrifice theme going on here. That's cool, but it's really difficult to make the game play interesting without some kind of reward. So I expect a Threaten, a Kuldotha Explosion, or something to make all this sacrifice worth it. I want to play with my cards, not throw them away!

MR: My designer instinct says this creature wants to be uncommon. I think it can do some cool things, but I'm not sure you want those "cool things" being done at the level they would if this card were common.

Resourceful Scavenger
[Prison Scavenger -
Creature - Human Rogue
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, draw a card, then discard a card
Watermark: Prisoner

KEN: Looting in red has proven fun so far, so thumbs up.

MG: Love it.

ZH: Awesome. If looting moves to red, this is one of the best ways to execute it.

MR: What I said on Twitter was that R&D was arguing about whether or not to move looting to red. I also said that I'm for the move. I'll give you a brownie point for embracing new ideas. I do like the card.

Undrak Clan Scout
Creature - Goblin Scout
Rage 3 - Whenever CARDNAME attacks, you may give it +3/+0. If you do, sacrifice it at the beginning of the next end step.
Watermark: Native

KEN: Maybe it's just me, but I always pumped this creature and got in for 4. Irksome that you pump before knowing your opponents blocks. Perhaps an activated ability, such as "0: This creature gets +3/+0 until end of turn. Sacrifice it at end of turn. Activate this ability at most once."?

MG: It really surprised me that the native faction has rage. I expected these cards to be prisoners—prisoners who are rioting against the system that has kept them jailed, and are so furious at their captivity that they'd rather die in their effort to escape than be caged one more day. That makes flavor sense to me. The natives here feel so much like prisoners too that I don't know why you even have a native faction. I'll have more to say on rage on CR07.

ZH: Alright, four cards in and so far three of them sacrifice themselves. Rage involves a weird kind of tension; yes, you can get a Ball-Lightning-ish effect, but what are the circumstances where I'm not going to "rage" this creature? Do I want to just beat down all day with a 1/1? In practice, this little creature just felt awkward whenever it was on the battlefield. It was either a letdown because it was an overcosted 1/1, or a letdown because I knew I was going to have to throw it away. Tension for tension's sake isn't good game design.

MR: Let's talk about rage. For starters, I love the flavor. Mechanically though there are a few things I'd change. First, I really think you need a mana cost to trigger the ability. This is partly to give development a knob to make this mechanic work and partly because I think game play is better if there are moments where players are "down." That is, it's nice if every threat isn't viable at every moment.

Second, and this is a little more vague, I feel like the mechanic isn't as flexible as it could be. I would love for you to be able to surprise your opponent with something in your hand and the current execution doesn't let you do that. Right now, the opponent just says, "Am I willing to take 3 more?" and then blocks or doesn't block accordingly. We had a similar problem with infect back when it was poisonous. There wasn't enough dynamic interplay with cards in your hand. Infect fixed this problem allowing an attacking creature to have a little more mystery to it, making the opponent's response less clear cut.

Headstrong Vandal
Creature - Ogre
First Strike
R, Sacrifice CARDNAME: Destroy target artifact.
Watermark: Prisoner

KEN: I don't think spending a first striker slot on the shatter creature is correct with rage in set.

MG: This is a tricky card. You can have it deal first strike combat damage, then sacrifice it to destroy an artifact—yay, it's like you got damage back on the stack! You've got a painful cost/benefit decision sitting on the table (when does the downside of your opponent having some specific artifact start to tilt the scales beyond the upside of you having a 2/2 first striker?) This affects your opponent as well, because he or she can see your on-board artifact destruction and has to make the same decision from the other side when choosing whether to cast the artifact in his or her hand. Usually abilities like this sit on a worse body, so it's just easier for everyone to determine when the right time to use the ability is.

ZH: A 2/2 first strike in red is actually a pretty substantial body, so it's weird that it's the creature I'm sacrificing to kill an artifact whenever it happens to come up. I'm also sick of sacrificing my own team!

MR: I'll agree with the other judges that this seems like too much body to make you want to sacrifice it. Also, this creature only wants to be at common if you have enough artifacts at lower rarities.

Shackled Masochist
Creature - Ogre Berserker
Whenever CARDNAME is dealt damage, put a +1/+1 counter on it.
Remove a counter from CARDNAME: CARDNAME loses defender until end of turn.
Watermark: Prisoner

KEN: This card played horribly. I have to work pretty hard to get a counter on it—then it shrinks down to get an attack in. "Make your creature smaller—your creature can attack!" isn't a mechanic I feel players will enjoy on the surface. In actual game play, my opponent never attacked with a creature I could block.

MG: It's a Fungusaur! I like the concept here. It plays into the "pain makes me stronger and/or angrier" theme of the prison world. (The flavor isn't a home run, though; it's really jarring for a Berserker to have defender.)

There's no way this card is common, though. It's got three interconnected abilities that cascade together. The timing of the triggered ability is so tricky that we always add reminder text to specify that the damage is dealt before the counter is added—and it's only ever shown up at rare before. The second ability is wholly reliant on your opponent choosing to attack into it (which won't be a frequent occurrence) or you damaging it yourself (which is almost never worth a burn spell, but would be kind of bonkers with a Pyroclasm or a pinger).

ZH: I assume you mean "Remove a +1/+1 counter from CARDNAME", not like a charge counter or whatever. This is pretty good design, and I like the flavor a lot. It's up there on the complexity end, but in this specific case I think the payoff is worth it. Just make sure not go off the deep end with these.

MR: You listened to the feedback from last show and are making more +1/+1 counter cards that make sense in a vacuum. Also Mark is right that this wants to be an uncommon.

Undrak Clan Warrior
Creature - Goblin Warrior
Rage 3 - Whenever CARDNAME attacks, you may give it +3/+0. If you do, sacrifice it at the beginning of the next end step.
Watermark: Native

KEN: The saturation of rage is supposed to become a deck type? I think you might want to consider using different numbers for rage.

MG: Rage intrigues me. I like it enough to want to play with it more and continue assessing it; it's an interesting choice and it plays differently than anything I've seen before. The most notable thing about it, though, was how differently CR04 (the one with haste) plays than CR07. CR04 shows up berserk and roars on over. CR07 shows up calm, cool, and collected, and something felt off about that, especially in the wake of playing CR04. We wanted to turn it sideways immediately and had to remind ourselves not to. Then later, when it attacks, it might decide to get mad. Rage becomes a decision to make every turn—use it now? What about now? Maybe now?

I'd be very interested in trying rage as an ETB ability that includes haste. That eliminates a number of decision points, and basically turns each of these cards into a virtual vanilla split card—do you want a Ball Lightning (without trample) or a Gray Ogre? This might be a terrible idea (how many Ball Lightnings can an environment handle?), but it's something that might be worth testing.

ZH: This is a better rage card than the 1/1, but rage still doesn't feel like a mechanic to me as much as it feels like an ability that would be cool on a single card. What is my reward?

MR: I made my notes above about my thoughts on rage. I'm happy to see a vanilla creature with the new ability.

Lava Slinger
[Firemage Cellmate -
Creature - Goblin Shaman
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, it deals 1 damage to target creature or player.
Watermark: Native

KEN: Hill Giant that squishes a little bug on entry. This is my favorite card in this submission.

MG: Fat Sparkmage Apprentice. Sure.

ZH: I like what this is doing with your self-damage spells, and we don't mind putting potentially-card-advantageous 1-damage effects at common. This card is fine.

MR: Nice and simple. I like it. It also feels like it could be very flavorful when the right creative is added.

Snarling Iguanar
Creature - Lizard
Compost - Whenever a creature you control is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, CARDNAME deals 1 damage to target player.
Watermark: Native

KEN: We've got Hissing Iguanar's big brother. I like that the nontoken clause has disappeared from this ability. Now you can have fun with tokens!

MG: A fine card, finally giving you some sort of payoff for all the self-sacrificing creatures. I wouldn't tag this with an ability word, though. Death triggers are a standard part of the game, and they don't seem to be any more frequent or important in this world than in any other. This particular trigger is somewhat specialized, in that it looks only at your own creatures (most death triggers look at all creatures). Even so, it's still not exciting enough to put a "This is what this set is about!" sign on it, nor is it distinctive enough to require the mnemonic aid to help players grok it or discuss it. ("Hey, I drafted six compost cards!")

ZH: Is this the card that's supposed to reward me for sacrificing my own stuff? I mean that seriously. I like the idea of compost in principle—though it's awkward that Compost is a Magic card that has nothing to do with this effect—but a single point of damage to a player is not going to make me happy about losing my creatures.

MR: Compost is a mechanic we messed around with in Shards of Alara design called "carnage." (The set had some cards with this mechanic but it was never named.) I like how it plays into your sacrifice subtheme. My worry, and this comes from designing with this mechanic, is that the effects that can be used are very limiting. Because creatures most often die in combat, you have to pick effects that are relevant at that time. While this might not seem like a big restriction at first blush, trust me, it is. The good news is that you found one of the best red effects for compost and used it on this card.

Repel the Overworlders
Target creature gets +X/+0 and gains First Strike until end of turn
Watermark: Native

KEN: Here's the spell you can sink all your mana into for Igniter of Lost Souls. But first strike as a sorcery? I don't get it. This would make a nice combat trick at instant.

MG: It's a sorcery, so it's not a combat trick. Rather, it's damage to the opponent's head on a battlefield with no blockers, or it's a sort of Edict (as your opponent will often choose to chump whatever creature you pump). It feels like an entirely reasonable spell conceptually, and I believe it's a bad card that some players will mistake for a good card, which is always an interesting spot to be.

ZH: This, on the other hand, is awesome. It has a lot of positive invisible text ("provoke" comes to mind) and can serve a variety of different roles. Good job.

MR: I am obliged to say that I don't like spells at common. I am glad that you made this a sorcery, as an instant would have been used more defensively which isn't what red is about. (Design has to be very careful to make sure that we don't design cards that when played optimally fight against that color's philosophy.) If you want to follow my advice and Ken's advice, you could change this card to an instant with "target attacking creature."

Blood Shock
[Bloody Shock -
CARDNAME deals 2 damage to target creature or player.
Paincast - If you were dealt damage this turn, CARDNAME deals 4 damage to that target instead
Watermark: Prisoner

KEN: We have a running joke of doing 2/4 damage instants (Burst Lightning, Galvanic Blast). So I suggest instead of ! The paincast rider will come up in games, but it's not the most fun thing ever to trigger yourself. Hopefully this designer didn't put Karplusan Forest in this set.

MG: Like rage, paincast intrigues me. I definitely want to see and experience more of it. It has a great conceptual feel for this world. The downside is that either you have to ping yourself to use it (which violates the flavor, at least in my mind), or your opponent wields too much control over when the bonus turns on. Bloodthirst, a very successful mechanic, works the opposite way—it encourages you to be aggressive, then rewards you for doing so. This mechanic punishes you for being aggressive (sneaking in one or two points of damage might enable your opponent's paincast cards ... are you sure you want to attack?), which is generally not a message we want to convey. Still, I'm curious if paincast would change your play style, as you try to lure your opponent into attacking you. I'm certainly not sold, but I am intrigued.

ZH: My biggest issue with paincast is that it is a disincentive for me to attack if I know that something bad is always going to happen whenever I deal you damage. It's like "Okay, what this is telling me to do is sit here and hole up and look at you until I figure out how to kill you in one fell swoop." I like that when I kill a 4-toughness creature with this it feels like retribution, but I also think it's really awkward and feel-bad to be holding like two of these and, just when the opponent starts to mount a counterattack, be like "P.S. Here's 8 to the dome. Thanks for enabling my spell!" I don't have a good fix for this, really, but in general this mechanic isn't doing it for me.

MR: One mechanic cares about death and the other cares about damage. They seem similar in flavor yet have no synergy in mechanics making me question whether you want them both. I'm much less sure what paincast is doing for the set. Also, if you keep it, I strongly urge you to lose the designer-y name and pick something flavorful that helps convey your world. Please remember that design names aren't just for being silly. Often they are one of the most important tools to get everyone not on the design team to see the picture of your world you're trying to paint.

Lure into a Trap
Target creature gains haste until end of turn and must attack this turn if able.
Watermark: Prisoner

KEN: I actually think this is what I had in the Bull Rush slot until it lost tension and kept its poopiness. The artwork is even based on a haste + must attack concept. So I like this card by association.

MG: That's cool. It's sideways removal or it's upside on your own creature.

ZH: I'd probably cost this at so it's actually feasible to use on your own creature, but I like this combination of abilities and flavor.

MR: I like the flavor.

Spoils of Plunder
[Spoils of Plunder -
Put a +1/+1 counter on each creature that attacked this turn
Watermark: Prisoner

KEN: Good job! Also, a better name for this card is "Good Job!"

MG: I love this card. Again, it's a sorcery, so it's not a combat trick—rather, it's a pure reward for being aggressive and attacking successfully. This could be green, though I think it works in red. It might want to be uncommon; most cards that put +1/+1 counters on multiple creatures show up at a higher rarity than common. Or it might be perfect just the way it is.

ZH: Alright, I drew this card a lot when we were playtesting, and I hated it every single time. It's a massive non-bo with the sacrifice theme and with rage, both because you lose your creatures and because you rarely have a bunch of different creatures on the battlefield. Then, when you do attack—even with normal creatures—your creatures have to survive to get the bonus, and then you have to wait one entire turn for the bonus to actually matter. I'm not even sure if this effect is red, either, honestly. This card is a massive heap of no-upside frustration, and is by far my least favorite card submission from any of the designers this week.

MR: You're doing a much better job with the +1/+1 counter cards. This one is flavorful and actually feels like a neat way for red to boost its team. I didn't get a chance to play with it (it didn't come up in my games) but I trust Zac's instincts that I would play more with this card. If it doesn't play well, get rid of it no matter how flavorful it might be.

Improvised Cannonade
[Improvised Cannonade -
CARDNAME deals 3 damage to target player and 2 damage to you.
Draw a card.
Watermark: Native

KEN: Damage spells that deal 2 are better off being instants for combat. There are swaths of players that aren't interested in an effect like this. While I see the combo with the paincast cards below, I'd leave that more in the realm of instant, deal 1 damage (or a Rain of Embers effect). This seems new for newness's sake, not a well-crafted tool.

MG: Interesting Flame Rift variant. It turns on your paincast, though you've already spent three mana this turn so I don't know what you've got left. Again, I could totally see this flavored as a rioting prisoner card.

ZH: I see what this is doing with paincast, but it's expensive enough that the interaction rarely comes up. Also, I don't understand why an improvised cannonade would enable anybody to draw a card.

MR: I would cost this so it doesn't need the cantrip. You might also want to shrink down the effect to 2 to the opponent and 1 to you. The best way to enable paincast is to make it as cheap as you can.

Retribution Force
[Scent-Driven Horde -
Put a 1/1 red Human Rogue creature token into play.
Paincast - If you were dealt damage this turn, put three 1/1 red Human Rogue creature tokens into play instead.
Watermark: Prisoner

KEN: Little tokens to combo with the Hissing Iguanar. In fact, one might take a damage on the chin from one's own Hissing Iguanar to combo with this card.

MG: Sure. It's a combat trick (surprise blocker!) or a post-combat trick (you hit me—three surprise attackers for next turn!)

ZH: I love the flavor of this card, and I think it does enough work that it can enable multiple strategies in Limited. Good job.

MR: We tend to put token making on sorceries. (This fact was even on the GDS2 Multiple-Choice Test.) The one color that occasionally does it at instant speed is white not red (and if you had to pick a secondary color it would be green). I understand that you need it to be an instant because you need to be able to cast it on the opponent's turn after he or she has attacked you. But usually when you have to shift a card that's normally a sorcery into an instant to fit your effect, it's a sign that you should keep looking for other effects. All that said, I can still see doing this card if it plays really well, which it might. (Bleeding token creation into instant isn't exactly the greatest of color pie violations.)

Unnerving Transformation
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant Creature
Enchanted creature gets +1/-1 and has intimidate
Watermark: Native

KEN: If this were a Burning Cloak or something, it would let the Masochist attack! Some tension points used up here, as it works differently on each creature on the table for good and for bad.

MG: This is a cute stealth split card. It's removal for 1-toughness creatures (or creatures that have been dealt nearly enough damage already), or it's a beneficial Aura for your own creature. I like the pairing of the +1/-1 and the evasion ability; since the enchanted creature probably isn't going to get blocked, it wants higher power and doesn't care nearly as much about its toughness. Plus I can tell myself a story about how the creature's aggression or deformity (however the +1/-1 is represented) makes it intimidating; that's good flavor. But this is another one that feels like a prisoner card to me; it calls to mind a hulking, tattooed inmate that is pumped up and terrifying.

Also, though I like intimidate in red, this is probably more correct as a black card, and it's overcosted by at least one mana.

ZH: For some reason I find this card adorable—but in an awesome way. I like that it can do a lot of interesting, value-added things while maintaining a believable, resonant flavor. I cast this spell twice, once on my opponent's creature and once on mine, and both times it did exactly what I wanted it to do. It's hard to ask for more than that!

MR: Be careful on how many kill spells you have in red common. That issue aside, this is a cute card and something that has to be done as an Aura.

Last Stab
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant Creature
When enchanted creature is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, it deals damage equal to its power to target creature or player.
Watermark: Native

KEN: I don't think the game play here on an opponent's creature matches intuition. I enchant your creature, it dies, then I kill your other creature. I would prefer "Enchant creature you control." Cool card, though. Another Soul's Fire-like card.

MG: It's the more straightforward Incendiary. I like this card; it's an interesting application for an Aura and it certainly changes how you treat the enchanted creature. However ... this is somewhat unintuitive if you enchant your opponent's creature (you control the Aura, so you control the triggered ability and thus choose the target—but I don't think that feels right, because your opponent controls the creature and that's what's dealing the damage). You might want to make the Aura deal the damage (like Incendiary), though I realize that's not the flavor of the card. Alternately, you might want to limit it to only being able to enchant a creature you control. Or maybe, like Incendiary, it's just supposed to be uncommon.

Also (and stop me if you've heard this before), this feels like a prisoner card to me. The retaliatory shank on the way out? Prison all the way. Maybe I've just watched too much Oz.

ZH: In my mind, I realize this is supposed to go with the sacrifice theme. But you're asking me to combine one unappealing thing (throwing away a creature) with another unappealing thing (casting an Aura on my creature that doesn't make it better) and promising me that the payoff will be worth it. In this case, I'd just as soon cast a Lava Axe. Sorry.

MR: Other than commenting again that you have a lot of kill spells, I do want to mention that I like this spell. I agree with Ken and Mark that this should be restricted to creatures you control.

Return in Kind
[Return in Kind -
CARDNAME deals damage to target creature equal to the damage dealt to you this turn.
"I'm Rubber You're Glue"
Watermark: Prisoner

KEN: We do more white cards like this, usually. I'm guessing this is grossly overcosted on purpose? It kind of has paincast, but doesn't.

MG: I'm not a big fan of this card. For one thing, it feels too conceptually similar to CR17. For another, this is a paincast card, but it doesn't say so (and would be awkward to say so). Finally, it has hidden memory issues, as you need to have kept track of exactly how much damage you were dealt over the course of the turn, but you didn't necessarily know you were supposed to be tracking that as it happened. This usually isn't a hard number to figure out, but still. Tainted Sigil did a similar thing, but that was uncommon.

ZH: Again, I dig the "retribution"-y feel, though I think you could accomplish that with a -paincast bolt that only hits creatures. In general, though, I enjoy when removal spells aren't automatically just windmill-slam first picks, so I applaud your effort with that here.

MR: I feel like this card is too close to CR11 [Blood Shock]. Both cards are direct damage spells that care about the opponent being damaged. If you really want to keep both, I'd move one out of common.


In response to judge comments, I eliminated CounterCast.

The process of developing the new logline helped me see the theme already running through my set, that of sacrifice. I have pushed this theme as the primary theme of the set, focusing on sacrificing creatures in Red but branching out in other colors and rarities. This theme risks being unfun, especially for new players, so I was careful to always make it an upside (except for Rage), with triggers that provide additional bonuses.

The +1/+1 counter theme remains, with the same concept (power-emitting mana crystals), but reduced to secondary status. The stealing theme is all but erased.

Another subtheme in Red (and White) is that of pain. Some prisoners have ritualized it as a cult of pain. This is shown on Shackled Masochist and the Paincast spells. Those spells are Prisoner aligned, just as the sacrifice triggering spells are in the Native faction (primarily Black and Green, only splashed here), but the enablers are intentionally spread across both factions to allow cross-pollination of decks.

As requested, I have parametrized Rage, but this first set only has Rage 3 (leaving room to grow). I experimented with adding the requested activation cost, but it made the cards read less elegantly, and made activating it on haste creatures feel like kicker (my core Rage concept is a card that can either be Ball lightning or solid but weak French Vanilla creature).

The looter celebrates MaRo's tweet that the ability is now red.

KEN: In summary, this submission has some cards that can hurt yourself then other cards to like that. You can cut yourself with a knife and it'll heal back as scar tissue. Scar tissue will be harder to cut a second time. Most people don't consider that a reward. They are happier if the goal of winning the game is a "PERFECT!" where you don't get hit at all and you're still at 20 life at the end.

MG: There's some good stuff in here. In particular, both of the main mechanics intrigue me, though I'm not sold on either of them. But at this stage of a set's evolution, I'm more than happy being intrigued. Wanting to learn more, play more, and explore more means there's interesting space being mined, and even if the mechanics aren't correct as they stand, they can probably get to a good area.

On the other hand, the mondo sacrifice theme isn't working for me, and the in-game complexity levels skew a little high. There isn't even a vanilla creature here. My biggest sticking point is with the world definition. I totally get the prison theme; that's coming through nicely—but I'm totally not getting the native faction or the underground setting. Maybe it's because I was assessing only red, but I felt like I was reading the "Prison Riot!" set. And I liked that set; it just didn't match the parameters I was told it would. Overall, I would definitely like to see more, so in my opinion, this set makes the cut.

ZH: Scott, man, you have some work to do.

For starters, I don't really feel like your two colors interact constructively. Beyond that, though—your set just isn't fun to play. It's not that your designs aren't making sense—looking at them, they do. Almost every single one of your cards looks like it could be a Magic card, in a vacuum. My issue is that the set doesn't seem to know what it wants to do. Some of that could be rooted in your theme itself—prison isn't pleasant, and it's certainly not fun. So why would a set based in that world be pleasant, cool, or fun? There might be a seed of something there—certainly there's a lot of mileage in high-intensity aggression—but I think you really need to take a step back and examine what, in the end, you're really trying to do.

MR: Scott, the thing I'm happiest with about this submission is that I'm starting to see more mechanical definition. I see you focusing on what you care about and your set is starting to get more mechanical integrity. My biggest notes in this area are that you seem to have too many things do something and not enough that care about it. Normally, the former is supposed to outnumber the latter, but it feels like your numbers are off. For example, you have a lot more cards that can be sacrificed than cards that care about the fact that creatures are sacrificed. In playtesting this meant that I was always waiting to draw cards that could make my sacrifice creatures matter.

My other big note is that while I know you have three factions, I don't have a good sense of what each one is. They don't have a defined role (at least not one that I feel is easy to see). I don't understand why they're fighting or what they represent. I think this is a big reason that your set still hasn't jelled for me. I see mechanical connections but I don't get a sense of the larger picture. As GDS2 is all about vision, this is an important thing for you to focus on.

My next note is that you have two themes that seem to be too close to one another: death and pain. Now, it's quite possible that you can make both work, but if you do so you have to make sure that the two are doing so in very different ways. Both right now kind of look to see if the thing it wants happens and then gives you a bonus if it does.

Finally, I think you went a little too far in lessening the +1/+1 counter theme. I didn't like the stealing but having cards that use +1/+1 counters and some cards that care was one of the things that best tied your two sets together in playtesting. It's fine to stay a lesser theme, but don't give up on it.

Your submission was very solid and you made a lot of good cards. The thing I need to see in the future is you spending more time trying to make it clear how things tie together and why. Be less micro and more macro. You're doing great GDS1 submissions. Just remember this is GDS2.

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