The Great Designer Search 2 Finalists: Scott Van Essen

Posted in Feature on December 22, 2010

By Staff

Scott Van Essen

Doom of Wodotha

Armies rallied to repel the blight. But when it arrived, they saw nothing.

MR: I think you're logline is being a little too clever. Remember that the audience has never heard of the blight before so it doesn't mean anything to them. Imagine that you think the blight is an army. Now read the logline. What exactly did you read? The army just disappeared? An important thing to remember about loglines is that they have to explain everything as clearly as possible while still trying to be pithy and entertaining. It's a hard thing to do, which is why I'm making you guys attempt it again and again.

Common Cycle:

Weary of Death
Target player gains 4 life.
Requiem - If a creature was put into a graveyard from the battlefield this turn, that player gains 8 life instead.

Vapors of the Blight
[Blightlost Vapors -
Put the top three cards of target player's library into his or her graveyard.
Requiem - If a creature was put into a graveyard from the battlefield this turn, put the top six cards of that player's library into his or her graveyard instead.
Source: Blightlost Vapors

Memories of Bereavement
Target player discards a card.
Requiem - If a creature was put into a graveyard from the battlefield this turn, that player discards two cards instead.

Flames of Retribution
[Pyre Shot -
CARDNAME deals 2 damage to target creature or player.
Requiem - If a creature was put into a graveyard from play this turn, CARDNAME deals 4 damage to that creature or player instead.
Source: Pyre Shot

Seeds of Rebirth
[Seeds of Rebirth -
Put two 1/1 green Saproling creature tokens onto the battlefield.
Requiem - If a creature was put into a graveyard from play this turn, put four 1/1 green Saproling creature tokens onto the battlefield instead.

KEN: Requiem ... on sorceries? I understand the reasons, encourage attacking and what not. However, it feels like force-feeding your kid broccoli. Sure, it's good for the kid, but wow does it taste vile!

This cycle will be quite a dare to block your dinky 1/1 attacker. Too much reward here will make the correct answer "never block" in an experienced player's mind. Careful; we don't want that.

BT: I like the choice of putting these on sorceries, making them a little harder to set up. They seem quite aggressively costed, but I agree that the reward for waiting for the right moment should be worth it. My least favorite of these is the blue one, which I don't think would play very well. The white one is great. Common cycles usually do a lot to define the theme of the set, and these are sending a message that combat and creature death is good. I like encouraging combat, but what's the tie-in with creatures dying?

CBD: These common cards are pretty ... common. That's not necessarily a bad thing. They're counting on requiem to distinguish them, and I guess that works okay. The problem is that the extent of requiem's flavor is "things die a lot here," and that's not a flavor players tend to relish. So pushing it downward and outward in common might not be a great choice. Players, especially younger and/or newer ones, just hate it so much when their stuff dies that trying to riff off that for flavor is a risky proposition.

MR: This is another cycle where you took a mechanic used by your partner and then fleshed it out into a cycle. As I explained in previous entries, when this happens, the judging is very dependent on the execution. Fortunately for you, your execution was excellent.

Requiem has a bunch of challenges for the designer. For starters, it requires a creature to have died so you have to be careful to do effects that don't want to be used at times (mid-combat being the most often) that it's hard for this to be true. All five of your effects pass this test.

Next, it is often hard when you create adjustable effects to keep track of what is going on. You used a common design trick of making the upgrade twice the original. This makes it much easier to remember. You also went out of your way to make sure the numbers spread out. A common mistake to make on this cycle is to have four of the five effects do two of something.

You also made the smart choice to put this mechanic on sorceries. Putting it on instants can, as you stated in your comments, make these spells a little too easy to use. I often talk about how sorceries are often important for making better game play. I'm glad you understood this lesson. I believe that this mechanic is less broccoli than carrot sticks. They're good for you and if presented correctly might even be enjoyed by the kids.

All in all, while you didn't innovate too much, your execution was flawless.

Uncommon Cycle:

Rescue from the Blight
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant Creature
Enchanted Creature gets +1/+1
When enchanted creature is put into a graveyard, return that card to its owner's hand.

Rise above the Blight
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant Creature
Enchanted creature gets +1/+1 and has flying
When enchanted creature is put into a graveyard, return that card to its owner's hand.

Feast on the Blight
[Feast on the Blight -
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant Creature
Enchanted creature gets +1/+1 and has lifelink.
When enchanted creature is put into a graveyard, return that card to its owner's hand.

Charge through the Blight
[Havelock Vetinari's Revel in the Blight -
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant Creature
Enchanted creature gets +1/+1 and can't be blocked except by two or more creatures.
When enchanted creature is put into a graveyard, return that card to its owner's hand.

Endure the Blight
Enchantment - Aura
Enchant Creature
Enchanted creature gets +1/+1 and has shroud.
When enchanted creature is put into a graveyard, return that card to its owner's hand.

KEN: Here's a bunch of Necromancer's Magemarks. I'm not convinced the game play here is different enough to justify five of these. What's more, it doesn't have a block-specific mechanic or theme, which brings down the need for such high repetition.

BT: Attempting to make Auras not suck is a noble cause that many good designers have taken up. Totem armor was my most recent effort and it proved more successful than many others. This is actually somewhat similar to totem armor so I suspect it might be a fun cycle. It's great to be able to throw your creature into combat knowing it's protected, or better yet play Day of Judgment and have your creatures survive.

I think it's cycled too tight. If the Auras gave different power/toughness bonuses and didn't try to match up mana costs, I think they would have a more interesting variety of roles to play in Limited decks and they would still seem like a solid cycle. It also does some good work letting you hit the semi-downside requiem triggers while still keeping your monsters.

CBD: This cycle is a good attempt to turn a liability into an asset. How to make players like a setting in which their stuff is dying constantly? Give them ways to cheat death. The cards aren't super-specific about how the enchanted creature is cheating death, but that's forgivable. To improve flavor along this axis, have the creature return to the battlefield rather than to hand (and adjust costs accordingly).

MR: I like your impulse to design cards that interact positively with blight. I agree that the Blight is becoming the center of this design, so it's important to make the set play nicely with its core mechanic. That said, I think your execution on this mechanic wasn't quite up to par with your common cycle. Let's go card by card:

UW01 [Rescue from the Blight]. Flash is a creature mechanic in some ways and not in others. This card shows why occasionally it's not. For starters, it has to be printed on its own line so it feels separate from the +1/+1 ability. Second it happens when the spell is played rather than actually enhancing the enchanted creature so it feels like it doesn't grant the creature a second ability like the other four cards in the cycle.

UU01 [Rise Above the Blight]. I like this card.

UB01 [Feast on the Blight]. This card's also fine.

UR01 [Charge Through the Blight]. I wish you could have found a keyword, as it's always odd when four cards use keywords in a cycle and the fifth one tacks on an ability. Sometimes you have to do this but I'm never happy when we do.

UG01 [Endure the Blight]. I'm happier with shroud on green Auras than blue because green tends to put them on bigger creatures that work better with shroud. The one downside of shroud on Auras is that you can't put other Auras on the creature (well, unless you put them on first).

In general I'm happy with this cycle but a few tweaks would have made it better.

Mythic Rare Cycle:

Celiana, the Protector
Legendary Creature - Angel
Flash, Flying
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield or is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, you may return any number of other permanents you control to their owner's hand.

Ventaro, the Preserver
[Havelock Vetinari's Ventaro the Preserver -
Legendary Creature - Sphinx Wizard
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield or is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, return all instants and sorceries in your graveyard to your hand.

Maltor, the Betrayer
Legendary Creature - Demon
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield or is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, Blight all other creatures. (Destroy each permanent with a Blight counter. Then put a Blight counter on each Blighted creature)

Rantor, the Ravager
Legendary Creature - Giant Warrior
First Strike
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield or is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, blight target creature, then untap it and gain control of it until end of turn. It gain haste until end of turn. (To Blight a creature Destroy each permanent with a Blight counter. Then put a Blight counter on each Blighted creature)

Gaesta, the Rebirther
Legendary Creature - Spirit
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield or is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, return all other creature cards from your graveyard to your hand.

KEN: Again, we've got a mythic rare legendary creature cycle. Again, Titans are cooler. Legendary clues many players into the fact that they don't want to play (or own) four of these cards, which reduces demand, which in turn negatively impacts all the numbers we use to measure successful sets. I'm happy to make an Omnath, Locus of Mana, but I'm less happy to hang a set on five of them.

The cool card here to me is the Demon. The white, blue, and green one feel like loops.

BT: I'm a fan of storyline legends at rare and mythic rare. The angel and demon are cool. All that's missing is a dragon. It seems like the "enters the battlefield and graveyard" triggers are mainly needed for blight on the black and red cards, but they carried over to the others mainly for purposes of maintaining the cycle. It seems like the green one will be disappointing when you get all your creatures back, then whiff on an empty graveyard when he dies a couple of turns later. These are small quibbles though, and I appreciate how difficult it is to craft a creature that feels powerful enough to be mythic rare, yet doesn't feel like an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn-style game over when you play it. If these were just a little bigger and more expensive they would sit right in that sweet spot for me.

CBD: These are cool enough, and although earlier I said that legendary creatures were a shortcut to Flavortown, I don't think these should be legendary. Their uniformity and shared trigger condition means they're not distinct from one another to be unique, memorable characters. As non-legendary rare or mythic rare creatures, though, they are appealing and splashy as well as serving the set's themes.

MR: This cycle reads a little similar to the Magic 2011 Titans but the inclusion of a death trigger rather than an attack trigger does make them read a little different and definitely helps play into the set's themes. Because these cards are a bit spread out in their effects, let's talk about them one by one:

MW01 [Cellana the Protector]. This is my least favorite of the cards in the cycle. The creature has flash to help it save things as it enters the battlefield, but with a converted mana cost of six, this is just hard to do. The death trigger can have relevance as it saves other creatures killed by the same effect but when the creature dies by itself, it can often be meaningless.

MU01 [Ventaro, the Preserver]. This card is interesting. It picks up all your previously cast instants and sorceries and then encourages you to cast them so you can get them back again when this dies. I do like that this card has good "build around me" potential.

MB01 [Maltor, the Betrayer]. I really like this card especially for the reasons you stated. It has a very nice interaction with blight.

MR01 [Rantor, the Ravager]. I appreciate blight here as well, but it's not quite as cool as the black card. I also feel like the death trigger is harder to use properly. Most often when this dies, it's not at a time that can maximize stealing a creature. Still, a deck built around this could take advantage.

MG01 [Gaesta, the Rebirther]. My biggest issue with this card is that we tend to put regrowing creatures in black. I don't mind it in green (green can regrow anything after all) but it does feel a little odd historically.

Two other notes—first, I'm not sure that these want to be legendary. I guess it lets you trigger both death triggers, but I think these cards would be sexier without the legendary limitation. Second, this cycle feels more rare than mythic rare to me. I could see the black card as a standalone mythic rare, but as a cycle I don't think this crosses the very high bar.

All in all, I like this cycle. They seem exciting and are executed well.


Commons - I chose sorceries because instants make Requiem too easy to use. Also, sorceries encourage attacking, add thought to your opponent's blocking decisions, and encourage bluffing. Instants are more interactive on a micro-level, but on a macro level, you're more likely to hold back creatures and cast the spells after blocking, making your opponent more reticent to attack, and decreasing overall interactivity.

Uncommons - Given the high lethality of Wodotha, I wanted my Auras to have built in protection against card disadvantage. I also wanted to reuse the extra graveyard (and enters the battlefield) triggers a set based around death has.

Mythics - My Mythic concept was "Each color's ultimate representative for dealing with the onset of the blight". White escapes it; Blue passes knowledge beyond it; Black embraces it; Red says "screw it, let's get wild"; Green endures. This cycle took many iterations, some "do-nothing", some BAHroken. The dual "enters the battlefield" and graveyard triggers solved the problem in multiple ways. The Black and Red cards needed to blight at least twice so that the ability is relevant outside the bio-dome. They all need an early trigger so they aren't just big bodies when you play them; and a late trigger so that they feel like they're "carrying on beyond the Blight". Overall, they felt like haymakers without being knockout blows, and combos they made were slow, fun, and escapable. Additionally, the Blue and Green Mythics play into the milling sub-theme Shawn has set up.

KEN: In summary, these cycles got worse as the rarity increased. I'd be fine with some requiem cards at common. Up to uncommon, there's little wrong with a black Aura that gives your creature a boost and another chance at life, but uncommon is the tightest rarity and needs to perform many functions. I don't think the same Aura five times will cut it. Finally, there's the mythic rare cycle. When I make my sets, my mythic rares must more or less be "elected" there by a committee of less-worthy cards that died in that mythic rare slot. I'm sure one or two of these enters-or-dies cards are getting a free pass.

BT: This is a solid submission. None of these cycles show any great vision or excitement to evolve the set, but what they do show is a strong understanding of how to make clean, appealing cards within the guidelines given. Great job.

CBD: These cycles are high on elegance and maybe a little low on sexiness. The commons and mythic rares both try to reward players for something they don't want to happen (although the mythic rares have enough other sauce to overcome this). The uncommon Auras successfully invert the "your stuff dies a lot" problem, but the nature of Auras, as well as their relatively straightforward effects, softens their impact. Overall, these cards are completely serviceable.

MR: Scott, this was a good week for you. While you didn't innovate all that much you did an excellent job finding appropriate cycles for Shawn's world and you executed wonderfully.

My one criticism is that you seemed to riff off the same theme ("everything dies") in every cycle. I understand that the Blight is at the core of Shawn's set, but I would have liked to see a little more variety in approaching the world. Overall though, good job!

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