The Great Designer Search 2 Finalists: Shawn Main

Posted in Feature on December 22, 2010

By Staff

Shawn Main

Malgareth, the UnderPrison

You can barely remember the Sun, but you'll sacrifice anything for a stab at freedom.

MR: This conveys underground (kind of) and gets a little flavor of prison but does neither very clearly and overall doesn't make for a very compelling logline. Don't be afraid to use words like "underground" and "prison." There are no subtlety style points.

Common Cycle:

CW01 – Substitute Shield
[Alt white,
You may remove a counter from a white permanent you control rather than pay CARDNAME's mana cost.
Prevent all damage target creature would deal this turn.

CU01 – Converted Bonds
You may remove a counter from a blue permanent you control rather than pay CARDNAME's mana cost.
Tap or untap target permanent.

CB01 – Improvised Garrote
You may remove a counter from a black permanent you control rather than pay CARDNAME's mana cost.
Put a -1/-1 counter on target creature.

CR01 – Makeshift Shank
You may remove a counter from a red permanent you control rather than pay CARDNAME's mana cost.
Target creature gets +1/+0 and gains first strike until end of turn.

CG01 – Impromptu Gauntlets
[Ironbar Gauntlets,
You may remove a counter from a green permanent you control rather than pay CARDNAME's mana cost.
Target creature gets +2/+2 until end of turn.

KEN: Here's a bunch of free tricks. I see a change to -1/-1 counters. The requirement of a colored permanent is somewhat weird (you can't do cool tricks with your Mirrodin's Core or Æther Vial) but I suppose it's a valid concession to the color pie.

I'd say that devoting 17 words on a card to saving two mana is not much to save, but you might be getting a curative -1/-1 counter removal here. That might not be something you want every color doing at instant speed, at common, at a negative mana cost.

However, these are sufficiently weird enough that I think we'd need to run them through the development team. After all, Shadowmoor has a turd-looking cycle of Crimson Wisps, but the set really wanted some Chaoslace cards. Perhaps Malgareth really needs a cycle like the one proposed. The combat trick nature of the cards will greatly aid their survivability.

I mostly approve.

BT: Removing counters as a cost is intriguing. It immediately sends Johnnies on a mental treasure hunt to find cards with counters that want removing. (Cumulative upkeep cards?) It's a strange thing to be doing at common though, and you are spending some "complexity points" to put it there. It locks you into having a high level of counters on permanents in this set. That's not necessarily a bad thing. If the set is very interconnected your cards are less likely to be pulled by development. If removing two cards would require removing fifteen more that interact with them, those cards have some protection.

CBD: As a card designer I like these well enough. They feel like parts of a puzzle for the player to figure out, and that's a fairly rare trait among commons. Unfortunately my card-design opinions are mostly irrelevant in this context. So what about flavor? There are two discrete problems. The first is a rookie mistake: These instants are concepted as Equipment. The placeholder names belong on Equipment, or at least artifacts, with Auras in a distant third place. They have no business living on instants. Second, although I understand how the counter shenanigans play into the set's mechanical themes, they don't really play into its flavor themes. Counters are so dang abstract that removing them has no real creative meaning at all. Because removing the counter could result in the permanent getting better or worse, you can't really build the alternative casting cost into the card's concept, name, or illustration.

MR: I do like how you found a way to do something Scott was trying to do but in a way that both will play and look better. The spells were all instants in color and they all had a reactive element that made getting to play them for free attractive.

I agree that these cards are complex, but if Scott's world is going to do what I think it is, I believe you are drafting behind the counter mechanics in the set. (I use "drafting" as the term in cycling when you get behind another cyclist to avoid wind shear.) It was a gamble but I think it paid off in that I believe it works well with what Scott is trying to do.

All in all, good work.

Uncommon Cycle:

UB01 – Corpsefly Feeding
[Poisionfly Feeding,
Whenever a creature you control is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, you may pay B. If you do, target creature gets -1/-1 until end of turn.

UR01 – Babbling Blood
Whenever a creature you control is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, you may pay R. If you do, draw a card, then discard a card.

UG01 – Offal Feast
[Edible Algae Feeding,
Whenever a creature you control is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, you may pay G. If you do, gain 3 life.

KEN: This cycle is maybe ok. At one point during Shards of Alara design when we were making Hissing Iguanar and friends, Bill Rose made a proposal to kill the "Carnage" (when a creature dies bonus) mechanic because it maps equally to Storm (generating spell effects for free is inherently broken). There's only so many Hissing Iguanar abilities Magic can hold. During the Magic Cruise, a player told me Vicious Shadows was trash. An hour later, another player told me that Vicious Shadows was broken.


It feels like this designer is curtailing brokenness in a responsible manner, but I think the safety valves are on too tight here and all the fun is being stifled.

These would make good creatures, by the way.

BT: It would be more flavorful if the cards that entered the graveyard were exiled. It's a nice storytelling point that this faction loves to see things die. I also like occasional three-color cycles for variety. The cards strike me as having ho-hum game play but you can't nail every feature with every card.

CBD: "Sir, the natives are revolting!" "Yes, they certainly are." This little cycle communicates that the natives are unrelenting and unafraid of death, which is enough. I do believe the trio would help build factional identity. The effects are just fine, and the placeholder names are pretty good. But the designer forgot the words "at random" on the end of Babbling Blood.

MR: You asked me if you could split one of the cycles into three mini cycles as a way to play up the factions. The audience is unaware but in a letter sent to the applicants I told them they could ask to tweak their assignment if they felt it was necessary to adapt it to their world. Shawn asked and I agreed that two mini three-card cycles made sense in Scott's world.

What you did here was effectively turn what R&D calls carnage (we almost used this keyword in Jund) into a cycle of enchantments. The biggest problem with carnage is that the effects have to be useful at the end of combat as that is most often when they trigger. You seemed aware of this and all three effects work properly. I also find it funny that I mention R&D is talking about looting moving to red and bam, all the GDS2 designers start putting it in red.

While we didn't playtest this week's cards, my sense is this cycle would play well. Another good job.

Rare Cycle:

RW01 – Watcher's Safeguard
Choose one or both- Search your library for an enchantment card and put it onto the battlefield. Then shuffle your library; and/or search another target player's library for an enchantment card and put it onto the battlefield under your control. Then that player shuffles his or her library.

RU01 – Watcher's Mirror
Choose one or both- Put a token onto the battlefield that's a copy of target creature you control; and/or put a token onto the battlefield that's a copy of target creature you don't control.

RB01 – Watcher's Revival
Choose one or both- Return target creature card in your graveyard to the battlefield; and/or return target creature card in another player's graveyard to the battlefield under your control.

KEN: The "Choose one or both" template is poorly utilized here. We use "Choose one or both" on double-targeted things so we don't have to write "up to one thing and up to one other thing." Players will choose "Both" a tremendous amount of the time with these.

Bribery is very high on the vilest cards list. We beat up Knowledge Exploitation from a clean sorcery. Fearing Mind Control makes a player apprehensive about casting their Baneslayer Angel, but Bribery makes them apprehensive about putting Baneslayer Angel in their deck, and likewise buying or trading for one. Magic is a much better game when there's no negative pressure to acquire Baneslayer Angels.

These cards work as a cycle, work as cards, work at their rarity, and work in the rules, but the fun cost is too high.

In other words, printing the card:

Face Punch
Punch target player in the face. That player loses 4 life.

puts pressure on players to play Magic without having a face. It's too fun to have a face.

BT: The templating on these seems off. Are you getting any flavor value out of saying "Choose one or both?" I don't see it. Is there interesting game play that comes from choosing whether to reanimate your creature, your opponent's creature, or both? I don't see much of that either. They read powerfully and I like that. I would change them so you always get both, if possible.

This cycle makes me imagine it might have started out as a standard five-card cycle and then had the worst two cut. The three-card cycle is a good way to give a faction a mechanical identity. I should remember to try that trick more often in my sets.

CBD: The modality of these does imply that the watchers have more resources than the natives or prisoners. Giving the watchers a rare black card is a little risky, though. The mini-cycle implies that white, blue, and black are evenly represented in this faction, and that's not the intent setting-wise. Mechanically, I think there are more interesting things to do with "choose one or both" than the effects above (I'm sure others will point out that you would always choose both with the white card, for example), but the basic idea is cool.

MR: I appreciate the elegance of this cycle. Each card allows you to use both your own and your opponent's resources. It also seems perfect as a rare cycle. I'm not sure exactly what it's saying about the watchers but it intrigues me and makes me want to learn more.

The reason for choose one or both is to make sure that the players can do one if they are unable to do both. Good catching something a few of the judges missed.

Ken is correct that we have to be careful with Bribery effects, but a high profile three card cycle that helps play up flavor is acceptable, I feel.

Mythic Rare Cycle:

MW01 – Olorah, the Shackled Judge
Legendary Creature – Angel
Flying, Vigilance
CARDNAME enters the battlefield with four -1/-1 counters on it.
2WW, Remove two -1/-1 counters from CARDNAME: Destroy each tapped creature.

MU01 – Seham, the Bound Deceiver
Legendary Creature – Djinn
CARDNAME enters the battlefield with four -1/-1 counters on it.
2UU, Remove two -1/-1 counters from CARDNAME: Other creatures become 1/1 and lose all abilities until end of turn.

MB01 – Tyvaal, the First Prisoner
Legendary Creature – Demon
CARDNAME enters the battlefield with four -1/-1 counters on it.
1BB, Remove two -1/-1 counters from CARDNAME: Target player sacrifices a creature.

MR01 – Angathrak, the Chained Tyrant
Legendary Creature – Dragon
Flying, Trample
CARDNAME enters the battlefield with six -1/-1 counters on it.
3RR, Remove three -1/-1 counters from CARDNAME: Untap target creature and gain control of it until end of turn. It gains haste until end of turn.

MG01 – Naal, the Fettered Growth
Legendary Creature – Treefolk
Trample, Vigilance
CARDNAME enters the battlefield with six -1/-1 counters on it.
3G, Remove three -1/-1 counters from CARDNAME: Put three 1/1 green Saproling creature tokens onto the battlefield.

KEN: These Deity of Scars guys are doing some things ok. They are huge spellcasters that grow larger as they cast spells (as opposed to Mindwarper and Spike Weaver that shrink). They can't do it forever (like say Kumano, Master Yamabushi or Nemata, Grove Guardian). The abilities are cleverly done so they don't have strict targeting requirements—if you have ten mana, you can shackle your legend.

However, they are eating up five mythic rare slots. Mythic rare slots are extremely precious. The last Mythic rare cycle (that's public knowledge) is the Titans in Magic 2011. You need a set's worth of splash crammed into those five slots. I don't think these shackled legends are there, and I'm pretty confident they won't get there. Remember Rafiq of the Many and friends? How about Uril, the Miststalker and his cadre? I remember the Titans more than those cards. The closest we've come is probably Kozilek, Butcher of Truth + Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre + Emrakul, the Aeons Torn in Rise of the Eldrazi.

If history is any indicator, it's impossible to make any legendary creature cycle as appealing as an equal effort non-legendary cycle like Titans. Legendary is just too much downside for too many players, and spending it five times at mythic rare is a huge commitment in what could be splashier slots.

BT: Story support—thumbs up. Interesting game play—partial thumbs up. Cool splash at mythic rare—thumbs down. The blue and white one don't seem right to me and I find myself wishing this was another three card cycle. Also, they strike me as too fiddly to have so many of them. This is coming from the guy who designed level up, but the stakes are higher at mythic rare. I like most mythic rare cards to slap people in the face with their splashiness without them having to invest too much effort parsing rules text.

CBD: These are winners. It was smart to do legendary creatures, because they're almost automatically flavorful (shut up, Isamaru, Hound of Konda). I buy the "shackled" thing, and that gag would work reasonably well in illustrations, too. The placeholder names are evocative and most of the activated abilities are reasonable, too, although it's weird for a dragon to induce acts of treason. Quibbles include overuse of trample, and I'd try to keep the rules text as short as possible, because these cards would benefit from having room for flavor text.

MR: I follow your logic how you ended up with a mythic rare cycle, but these cards don't really work for me as a mythic rare cycle. I don't mind the -1/-1 counters. In fact, experience has shown us that players like cards that remove -1/-1 counters as a cost. My problem is that these cards are a little too repetitive at mythic rare for me. Large sets only have fifteen mythic rare slots so we have to be pretty stingy with using them. This means that we tend to avoid cycles at mythic rare, but when we do we try to make sure that they are very loose to keep too many mythic rares from feeling the same.

Rarity aside, another small problem is that I felt you created too much gap between the mana cost and the activation cost. These are supposed to be super sexy cards. Let players live the dream of casting them one turn and activating them the next. My other issue is that four out of the five are essentially killing creatures (a few are more sideways in their destruction). I would like to have seen a greater variety of effects. Also, I don't like that three come with four -1/-1 counters and two come with six. If you're going to make a cycle this tight, don't scrimp at the end—make it tight.

I do feel like this cycle captures something. The cards are attractive to me and with some massaging I do think this could turn into a neat, probably non-legendary, rare cycle.


I made two daring moves with my Malgareth designs- asking Scott if I could reverse his counter theme and asking Mark if I could embrace Malgareth's factionalism by using two 3-card cycles (divided along Native and Watcher colors) in place of one the 5-card cycles.

Scott's initial counter theme played up stealing, but, with that gone, I wanted to explore Ken's suggestion that removing -1/-1 counters would be more fun than constantly removing bonuses. It also felt appropriate to the story that the prisoners were now breaking free and turning on the Watchers. This image lead to common instants that retooled Scott's countercast spells, requiring a payment of something that is normally a penalty. On a larger scale, this lead to exploring legends who broke free from their bonds.

The legends were met with resistance on the wiki by some who felt the counters read like too much downside, but I feel players start by reading a card's name and looking at its artwork, which have potential to be amazing. They then glance at mana cost and power/toughness. Here, that ratio should drop jaws. Players will start on the text, find the expected downside, but keep reading to realize undoing that downside is further upside.

The uncommon composters were inspired by Insatiable Rot, Snarling Iguanar, and the desire to reward Scott's sacrifice theme. The rare Watcher spells attempted to play into the Watchers' strategy of using an enemy's resources against them, but without making them unplayable against the wrong opponent.

KEN: In summary, there's a mechanical common cycle of free combat tricks, dual cycles for opposing factions, and a mythic rare cycle I'm skeptical of due to the legendary creature type. While the first three cycles have merit, I have a bigger problem with the last. Take a simple survey—ask around to everyone you can, given Magic 2011's Titans and Malgareth's Shackled Legends, which set will have higher sales figures? When all is said and done, what would you put your money on? Because that's what players are doing with every purchase they make.

BT: I liked the decision to go with three-card cycles, especially since there was a flavorful reason for doing so. The commons were interesting while the rares and mythic rares were a miss for me. Despite that fact, the biggest consideration in my mind is whether these design choices help build the set's theme and move it toward its next iteration. I think overall these cards do fulfill that promise well.

I like your map of the path of the player's eyeballs as they traverse the new cards. I have attempted to create that map as well, with mixed results. If you crawled that far into a player's head it means you have the game designer spark within you.

CBD: I feel Shawn was successful overall. His commons serve Malgareth's mechanical structures but don't have much flavor. The uncommons and rares are evocative enough to help build factional identity. And the mythic rares are home runs. None of these cycles address the underground aspect of Malgareth, but it could be that the identities of and tensions between the three groups are more interesting than the locale anyway.

MR: Shawn, I felt you did a pretty good job of involving yourself in Scott's world. There is some flavor I didn't quite get, but to be fair I haven't gotten it with Scott's designs either. I thought your three-card cycles were a nice touch and I like how you were able to fit the cycles to your set.

Nothing here blew me away but it was all very solid and functional (and I mean that in a good way). I don't feel like you added all that much to Scott's world but I think you worked within it very nicely. Good job.

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