The Great Designer Search 2: "Second Time's The Charm"

Posted in Feature on December 8, 2010

By Mark Rosewater

Working in R&D since '95, Mark became Magic head designer in '03. His hobbies: spending time with family, writing about Magic in all mediums, and creating short bios.

Welcome to Episode #3 of The Great Designer Search 2. Last episode (here), the judges reviewed the first design challenge and I eliminated the first designer, Jay Treat. Then we gave the remaining seven candidates the second Design Challenge. Today we're going to be judging the second Design Challenge and I will be eliminating a designer from the Top 7.

Let me start by introducing you all to this week's panel of judges. Note that the color box they will be appearing in will be the one used throughout today's judging. Our first judge is myself.

MR: I'm going to use my green box intro today to talk about an important facet of the judging. As a means to help test the designers' ability to create and execute on a vision, we had each applicant create their own world that they are designing in week after week. While these worlds are important I want to stress that the winner of the GDS2 is not necessarily going to be the person that's designed the best world. The winner is going to be the person who through creating their world has demonstrated that they are the best designer. These two might overlap but they might not.

Our second judge who is the one other constant judge along with myself is Ken Nagle.

Hello, I'm Ken Nagle, a Magic designer. I'll be going through the submissions in a "Multiverse pass" fashion. This is standard everyday procedure for internal Magic sets, and a new designer needs to be able to absorb (and deflect!) feedback in this medium.

Our guest designer judge this week is Mark Gottlieb. I'll let Mark introduce himself.

I'm Mark Gottlieb, Magic R&D vagabond and jack-of-all-trades. I've spent two years as a Magic editor, two years as the casual deck building columnist, and four and a half years as the Rules Manager. I've been on half a dozen design teams or so, including leading the design of Mirrodin Besieged. I'm currently a full-time developer. I run Reject Rare Drafts, play EDH, and have a casual Timmyriffic multicolored-skewing cube known around here as the "GottCube." I love innovation but hate gimmicks. I'm always right, even if no one else believes me. I will be reviewing your cards by taking on the perspective of Mark Gottlieb. This means I'll be taking a hard (if abstract) look at holistic game play and feel for the environment you've created, invoking some historical precedents, and generally being opinionated (both positively and negatively).

Our non-designer guest judge is Magic developer Zac Hill. I'll let Zac make his own introduction.

Hi, y'all. I'm Zac Hill, or "Chatter of the Squirrel," or "The Other Guy In The Pit Who's Kinda Sorta Almost As Loud As Mark Rosewater." Well, on good days anyway. I was a Pro Tour player for nine years before entering R&D as a developer, but I busted my first pack of Magic cards at the ripe old age of eight. From 2005-2009 I penned a column on a popular Magic strategy website, and I've made more than a few appearances on Evan Erwin's Magic Show as well. Outside of Magic, I worked as a policy analyst for the Mayor of Memphis and the Menteri Besar Selangor, and was a 2008-2009 Luce Scholar at the Centre for Independent Journalism in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I blog for the Huffington Post, author poetry and short fiction for a number of independent presses, coach Mock Trial for the University of Washington Huskies, and serve on UW's postgraduate scholarship selection committee. Most importantly, I sport an impressive collection of plush decorative penguins that are currently sitting on the bookcase in my living room.

Despite coming into R&D as a developer (and occasional Creative contributor), there was a period last week where I was actually working on four design teams at once. It's not uncommon for us to put developers on design teams, because doing so carries with it a number of advantages:

  1. It facilitates communication between design and development. While it's vital for design to be able to function as an independent unit—that's the whole point of forming "teams" in the first place—it's also good for development to have some idea how a set is progressing as it goes.
  2. Developers can identify Constructed and Limited game play needs at the very beginning of a set's design, allowing the team to embed the desired environment into the very structure of that set.
  3. It brings a fresh perspective to the design team. Developers' card submissions tend to differ in nature from those submitted by designers, and while neither "type" is superior, it's usually better to be able to choose from a variety of different options.
  4. Perhaps most crucially, a developer can keep an eye out for good game play as design sifts through its myriad mechanics, structures, and themes. I've been on six design and/or development teams now, and every single one has shifted its identity numerous times on the way to the final product. Developers help ensure that this steady churn is actually directed towards something constructive. We help foster the ideas we believe would be able to be developed into something fun, and we try to cull away the ideas that, while appealing on the surface, probably wouldn't ever make it into a finished product.

The point of all of that is to say that my comments will be coming at you from the angle of a developer serving on a design team. Sure, I'm going to be looking at some of the same issues as the designers, but I'm also going to talk a little bit about whether I have confidence that a particular mechanic or theme is solid enough to be sculpted into the backbone of an actual Magic set.

Finally: a word of advice. The best submissions are going to look like Magic cards that we could and would print. Our current development philosophy took hold around Shards of Alara and came into its own around Zendikar Block, so I'd draw from the last two and a half years or so of Magic sets for examples of what works. Magic R&D is a pretty diverse bunch, idea-wise. We don't agree on everything, and different people are going to have different priorities. What that means is that every Magic card that has actually seen print recently represents a kind of consensus, a barometer for how, on average, the game ought to work. So the answers to everything you need to know will quite literally be found in the cards.

Aaron's known to tell the story about how, when designing Magic 2010, he spent untold hours in the third-floor hallway simply staring at the three uncut sheets of Beta we have hanging on our walls. The result turned out pretty well. If you're struggling, then, I ask you to take a step back from the GDS2 and hold some Magic cards in your hands. Shuffle through them. Read. Notice what it feels like to see a card, to experience it in front of you. What happens when you draw a spell from a deck? What happens when you play with a mechanic?

Open up your eyes.

Common Knowledge

For the second Design Challenge, we asked our applicants to do what we do when we're working on a new set—make more commons. The first Design Challenge allowed the candidates to select the color of commons to design, for the second Design Challenge, we made the choice. Each color was specifically selected as we knew it was one of the harder colors for that applicant to design for their world.

Like last week, the judges playtested the decks. The way we did it was that we took the eighteen cards from the first Challenge and the eighteen cards for this Challenge, added twenty-four lands and shuffled. We did it this way because we wanted to get a sense not just of the new cards but whether the entire set was starting to get a cohesive feel. The judges were aware that much had changed between the weeks and the playtesting did not focus on the mistakes of the previous Challenge.

As I do every show, I want to take a moment to stress that what we are asking the designers to do is very hard. They are being asked to create results with a tiny fraction of the time and manpower that a real set would have. The judges are being harsh in our criticisms but please be aware that we have great respect for the work the applicants are doing.

Below are the seven applicants each with their Design Challenge submission along with the judges' comments. Click on each name or avatar to see that candidate's material.

After you've read what the judges have to say, click here for the second GDS2 elimination.

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