Only the Penitent Man Shall Pass – Round One of GDS2

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Hopefully by now, you received your e-mail saying you made it to Round Two of the Great Designer Search. I know that some people have been putting up their responses to the questions and I’d figure I’d do the same. I was being superstitious and didn’t want to post my responses before I had gotten that e-mail. I was going to do commentary, but I think we’ll leave the answers just the way they are.

Obviously, we’re not going to agree on all of these topics (which is good), and some people think the choices I picked made me punt the entire thing (which I don’t agree with). We’ll see in a couple of weeks.

I’ve got to completely update my Wiki as things have changed. I’ve gotten some great feedback from people and I need to incorporate it. As for now, my answers:

Introduce yourself and explain why you are a good fit for this internship.

I’m leaving this one out. You don’t need this and if I do get selected, you’ll see it anyway.

You are instructed to move an ability from one color to another. This ability must be something used in every set (i.e. discard, direct damage, card drawing etc.). You may not choose an ability that has already been color shifted by R&D. What ability do you shift and to what color do you shift it? Explain why you would make that shift.

If I had to shift an ability from a color to another, it would ironically be Red’s temporary stealing to Black. Before it’s argued that Blue had that ability and was shifted to Red, I would like to point out in MaRo’s “It Happened One Nights” (August 5, 2002) that Legend’s Disharmony preceded Ice Age’s Ray of Command. All R&D did was to bring it back to Red.

I understand why Red has this ability. It’s all about passion and anger and the defection of a creature over to your side even just for a turn. The aptly named Temporarily Insanity card from Torment says it all. But, this can also be said about how it can fit into Black as well. Betrayal, demonic possession, the evil whispers. All of those ideas can be expressed through Black as well. I believe when more people think about someone changing and fighting against something that they’ve been working towards, a more evil “possessed” image comes to mind.

But what about haste these temporary steal effects grant? Red is synonymous with haste but it’s not like it’s a new thing to Black. And even MaRo said in Aaron Forsythe’s Card of the Day comment about Crazed Skirge, “Black needs haste for purposes of limited.” Most of the temporary steal effects see play in limited and casual while hardly making an appearance the high tables of tournament constructed.

The shift of this ability from Red to Black would obviously be a loss for Red combat tricks but can be replaced with another ability (either “Better” creatures can’t block cards or something else entirely). This would be a huge boon for Black’s flavor as, I believe, feels more natural there. Red’s belief of “don’t think about tomorrow focus on today” does fit with the flavor of temporary stealing and lack of an answer. However, Black’s “Do anything to win” feels really strong if that includes beating you with your own creature.

What block do you feel did the best job of integrating design with creative? What is one more thing that could have been done to make it even better?

The block that best integrated design and creative was the one that had to do it most to pull it off: Time Spiral block. Ignoring the timeshifted cards in the first set, the idea of time was perfectly executed in a game like Magic. Where all pieces in Magic are interchangeable, the feeling of time fluxuation with Suspend and Split Second made the game chaotic. It was a good chaotic.

Design and creative had to work together on a majority of the cards since over half the block has callbacks or references to older cards from an earlier time. Even with the main storyline having to create the havoc to lead up to the new Planeswalker design had to work. It was a complete change in direction on how stories and future blocks were to be created. Plus, creating an alternate timeline and what the future of Magic could possibly be had to have creative on board to make it work.

As for what I would do to make it better, I would’ve made even more connections to the past, especially in Planar Chaos. When I heard that it was going to be an alternate reality, I thought that there was going to be a mixture of creatures that might have been, not just colors as well. Seeing Affinity on a Phyrexian Demon, a Goblin with ninjutsu, Spikes from Tempest block that deal out -1/-1 counters. While it was fun to see Crovax as a hero and Wrath of God as a Black card, I don’t know if it went far enough.

Future Sight did some of that, especially with the Slivers. And the mixture of the keywords was great. However, I would’ve put it in Planar Chaos and gone more out with the possible future mechanics in Future Sight. Yes, I don’t think Future Sight went far enough. I know that there is such thing as keyword overload, but it was the perfect opportunity to do things you might not do. See Steamflogger Boss as an example.

R&D has recently been looking at rules in the game that aren’t pulling their weight. If you had to remove an existing rule from the game for not being worth its inclusion, what would it be?

While it’s hard to find a rule that can be cut that won’t affect the game, I think I found one that might be able to be cut: rule 400.10a’s “Cards in a player’s sideboard are outside the game.” Currently there are very few cards that deal with cards from outside the game, the 6 Wishes and the Ring of Maruf. Right now this rule affects those 7 cards and cuts down some of the options that could be opened up for design.

Whenever the Odyssey block is legal, the Wishes are a part of deck building. Yes, Cunning Wish could be then used to fetch itself and part of a “Wishboard” rather then a sideboard. There have to be limits of cards that can go get cards that have been exiled, something that I don’t believe has been properly tapped into yet. While I’m not advocating that every card needs to deal with the exile zone or needs to be used as a resource like the graveyard, it might be nice to bring in the functions that the Wishes use to do. If a creature was exiled through Path to Exile, Living Wish used to be able to go get it back because it was removed from the game. There were more options when the Sideboard was in the same zone.

While some places like Magic Online might be affected by the change, I think that it’s something that could be easily altered. At the moment, it’s only 7 cards that care about the sideboard and for casual players they can be great fun cards to use. I believe moving the sideboard into the exile zone and then creating new “Wishes” wouldn’t change the game all that dramatically, and that’s when it’s time to take a look at a rule.

Name a card currently in Standard that, from a design standpoint, should not have been printed. What is the card and why shouldn’t we have printed it?

One card that was released recently shouldn’t have been printed: Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. There should be cards that push the boundary for how large and powerful creatures can be and I believe that this certainly went right over.

I’m all for everything that the card represents, a large Timmy creature that has heavy competitive constructive appeal. At first glace there’s almost nothing to hate about this card: it can’t be countered, you Time Walk when you cast it, it has evasion, protection from practically all spells and the highest annihilator out of any of the Eldrazi. It certainly passes the wow test when one first sees the card, and when it’s cast it for the first time. Everyone in the game or watching might love it and people would think that it’s amazing and tell stories about it. But it quickly loses its appeal the more times it’s cast, a diminishing returns quality, especially to the opponents in that match. I’ve had one friend even feel remorse that he felt like he should attack with it after he did cast it in an EDH game. Most of the Commander rooms on Magic Online have the phrase “No Eldrazi” because people don’t want to play against a time walking game winner.

There are a few ways to get rid of it, but it’s just such a back breaker that the game feels like it’s over when it’s played. The combination of the abilities on the card makes it almost too powerful. Had the protection from colored spells clause been “Instants” instead, it would’ve allowed the possibility of Emrakul being Mind Controlled, or similar effects. More outs against that card isn’t bad because it already is protected enough.

If you’re paying 15 mana, you don’t want it countered and you get to take another turn. But then a 15/15 flying can end the game the next turn when it attacks with annihilator 6. Emrakul is understandable for constructed, annoying in casual.

What do you think design can do to best make the game accessible to newer players?

One of the ways design can do to make the game accessible to newer players is to design mechanics that make their inner Johnny/Spike/Timmy feel with glee. I believe that people play Magic for different reasons and newer players feel the same way, not unlike the experienced one. There might be new players who don’t want to play a Tribal deck, but others that do. I think it’s wrong to assume that they all want the same thing.

Now, this isn’t going back to the mistaken belief that “Wizards are building our decks for us” with the Odyssey/Onslaught blocks mindset. I believe that Scars of Mirrodin does a great job with the keyword mechanics, Proliferate and Imprint for Johnny, Metalcraft for Spikes, and Infect for Timmy. It doesn’t have to be a keyword either, the Dragons in Shards of Alara is a great example of an excited strategy for Timmy. Any time you start learning a new game, you want a blueprint to help you get started so understand it easier. Ignoring the Intro Decks (Which I believe is a development issue), design needs to help push the new players in a general direction. This doesn’t mean things need to be dumbed down, just a nudge to make it a little easier.

Having a marquee card in the mechanic is a great place to start. In Scars of Mirrodin there’s Inexorable Tide, Hand of the Praetors, and Mox Opal for jumping off points for the new mechanics. Sometimes, it’s the linear designs that get people thinking. It’s the discovery of “Hey, this goes with that. What would happen if I put them in a deck together?” feeling that gets the new players hooked. And we all know what happens when you get people hooked on Magic, great times and great success.

What do you think design can do to best make the game attractive to experienced players?

On the flip side, how do you keep experienced players wanting to keep playing Magic? With so many options of playing, especially with casual formats such as EDH, they may not want nor need to keep buying cards. While it’s not the end goal to have these players keep buying cards, Wizards of the Coast is a business. One of the best ways to do this is to do something an entire block was based off of: nostalgia.

I was playing with a few friends who hasn’t played Magic in years and are coming back into the game. When were talking about what they remembered, they were going on about kicker and the multi-color of Invasion and how they loved that. I told them that Magic recently brought both of those back in Shards of Alara and Zendikar and their ears perked up. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Magic is built on change, and since Wizards thought it was good to re-use keyword mechanics, seeing old classics come back with a new twist is a great way to keep the experienced players wanting more. The newer players hear stories of “I remember when X card did something like that” and the new players want to see that card and maybe get that as well.

When my friends bought their Scars of Mirrodin box, they asked me if Affinity was going to make a return. I said no, and they were a little sad as they never played competitive constructed to get that mental image of the domination of said mechanic.

Whether it’s bringing a player back from a hiatus or it’s a player who hasn’t stopped, revisiting mechanics bring backs memories of a time well spent in the earlier years. New twists make them fresh and exciting for everyone.

Of all the mechanics currently in Extended, which one is the best designed? Explain why.

The best designed mechanic in Extended also happens to be my favorite: Tribal. Yes, even with the weird type rules, Tribal is very grokkable.

For the longest time, there have been spells that deal with Elves, Dragons, Goblins and various other creature types have gone unloved. Ignored no longer with the debut of Tribal in Lorwyn, Tribal completely enhances the flavor of Magic. It’s such a beautiful mixture of function and flavor that makes it the best. Artifacts, enchantments, instants and sorceries that were completely influenced by the type of creature that they referenced could now be properly identified and counted as those types of cards.

Of course, some of the each cards had to errata’d to now search for an “Elvish card” but that just adds possibilities to design and flavor of the world one’s trying to make. The first usage of Tribal was a world based around it but Rise of the Eldrazi demonstrated that it could be done in small doses. It fit wonderfully. Even if you knew nothing of the story, you got the idea that Skittering Invasion worked with that large colorless creature you also pulled as a rare. This ties back in to the new player suggestion a few questions back. If they see an Elf spell, they might want to combine it with some Elves their friends gave them.

The mechanic can and has gotten pushed with Faeries, but I think that’s with more of the execution of the creatures than the mechanic itself. Littered here and there, Tribal can be easy to implement in some of the sets while making a huge impact on the game itself.

Of all the mechanics currently in Extended, which one is the worst designed? Explain why.

The worst designed mechanic in Extended is one people hate, but for the wrong reasons. Cascade could have only appeared Alara Reborn for the sake of the power level it could’ve been; mono-colored Cascade cards could’ve been disastrous, way too powerful. Not that it wasn’t insanely powerful on its own, an all-upside mechanic can be dangerous.

Doing something random and controlled while still having an effect on the game is a hard thing to do. Since you shuffle your deck and (for most of the time) you don’t know what’s on top, it’s pretty logical to have a mechanic based off that concept. Clash did that job pretty well. I assure you, Cascade is no Clash.

Wanting to build a competitive deck, it was important to consider the mana cost of your cards more than usual. Decks were fine tuned to hit the best cards when they cascaded, taking out most of the randomness. Sure, there was a question of if you were going to hit a Blightning or a Maelstrom Pulse, but playing it for free you really didn’t mind, did you? Hypergenesis was even banned in Extended because before Cascade it wasn’t possible to abuse the no mana cost very easily. The mechanic was no longer whacky random but controlled random that allowed spells to be played for free.

Cascade is more fun in a deck that you don’t have complete control over or it’s so large that it has multiple variables of hitting a lower cost. Limited and EDH decks are two types of places where Cascade can seem fun because there’s less control. That is until I have a Maelstrom Nexus in play and cast Brainstorm revealing my Ancestral Vision. Bloodbraid Elf wasn’t hated because it was a creature that had haste; it was a creature that had haste and it made me discard 2 cards and lose 3 life for 4 mana because that was the best way to play it. Getting extra spells for free is always powerful. See: Affinity and Storm.

Choose a plane to revisit other than Dominaria or Mirrodin. What is a mechanical twist we could add if we revisit this plane?

If Magic was to revisit a plane I would love to go back to Kamigawa. The art, the mechanics, the flavor, I really liked what was going on there. While it might have been not as powerful as the surrounding blocks of Mirrodin and Ravnica, it still worked on its own.

And that was the main problem, it felt alone because of Arcane. A big mechanical twist for the block would be to “fix” Splice and make it play nice with other spells besides Arcane. With the Spirit War over, Splicing onto Instants and Sorceries is something that could be easily justified. The mixing of the Spirits and the living world could be the main conflict of the block as after so much fighting they’re still uncomfortable with living together.

Also, Tribal could replace Arcane. All of those spells could be Tribal Whatever – Spirit, which I believe was the intent of Arcane anyway. This allows more of those types of spells to be played outside of block while still keeping the flavor intact. Bringing back Soulshift would be interesting because of the types of cards that now could be returned with that mechanic. Being self serving with trying to get more Tribal into the game, I believe this a great combination of doing what Arcane was trying to do in the first place.

The mechanical twists of mixing Splice on non-arcane spells and making the arcane spells now Tribal, I think it would shake up the plane and make it a great return to Kamigawa. I don’t think that people didn’t like the plane because it was “under-powered” but that a majority of the cards weren’t able to be used outside the block.

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5 thoughts on “Only the Penitent Man Shall Pass – Round One of GDS2”

  1. I moved onto the 2nd round as well; Big fan of the sight and look forward to continuing forward with great designers like yourself.

    Curious about your Cascade choice – I agree some of the cards were quite powerful, but I really think that’s a power/balance issue; I really enjoyed the design of the mechanic itself.

  2. Black will do anything to win.

    Also, good job. Your arguments are pretty sound. If anything, your conviction in the greatness of Tribal seems just a tiny bit excessive at times, but hey, you’re into round two, so who cares. Congrats!

  3. I like most of what you have here. I’ve tossed mine up in the Faceyspace http://tiny.cc/kqfd5 (this is what my old friend calls Facebook as he doesn’t quite understand the difference between it and any other social feed).

    As far as my grievances, Black already has stealing, though not much. I do agree it could definitely use a lot more than what it gets for the reasons you stated, but it has gotten some.
    I like the idea of pushing more with Time Spiral, but the overload may have been more than we could handle. More alternate worlds would have been fun though.
    I’m not quite following how you want to change the rule. Wouldn’t that be a little more complicated? Cards in the Exile Zone default to face-up, so the rule for your sideboard would have to agree to that (bad) or just state they are face down (slightly better) and if so, can we still look at them? I think you missed a chance to explain yourself a bit more here.
    Everything you say about Emrakul is right. He, along with his other two legendary brethren, were just a bit too much on the power push, though Kozilek isn’t bad, but Ulamog is indestructible, almost as hard to deal with as Emrakul. Even in constructed the combo is too much, as I saw first hand this weekend, he was hardcast against me, Ow.
    Most of what you say is absolutely correct, except the Intro Decks. Those are both design and development and as such are one of the easiest answers for this question. You may notice I went into that a bit.
    I feel like I read my answer to this question reworded hear, nice.
    Really, Tribal? I feel the love for it too, but it is way too under utilized. Why isn’t Dragon Fodder a Goblin card? Same with any of the other general token producers that have seen print. Give me more here.
    I think Cascade was actually a development mistake. The mechanic at heart is fantastic, the problem we ran into were spells that were far, far too powerful when hitting for free consistently. Some other catch may have been able to make these work better, but I’m not sure what that could be.
    I get the Tribal love, but I don’t think splice is where you want to go with that. Splice onto type (Instant, Sorcery, Etc.) is good. You may be able to say Splice onto Tribal – Spirit, but this seems clunky, and we couldn’t just say Spirit without some other fix to make it Instants and Sorceries only. Everything else feels just right there.

    Now that I’ve bored you with a novel of criticism, which I do offer up with respect, feel free to rip into mine even worse.

  4. I like your answers, even if I don’t entirely agree.

    When I moved an ability, I was far more nebulous, I am jealous you had such a concrete move, for me, it was moving “Graveyard Hate” to white, and re-imagine it as locking the graveyard, rather than exileing the whole thing.

    And how many times have you looked back at what you submitted and went, “Cra-OPH! Why didn’t I say that?!?” For me, its, “an added benefit of locking graveyards, rather than just exileing them, is to help reduce the amount of stuff being dumped in Exile.” (as Magic grows, we have to be cautious that everything creeps from killing to the GY to killing to Exile. (Part of the reason O-Ring and Path were abandoned, (instead of just one or the other) I would bet.)) (Thats a lot of ()’s! (But I closed them all, right?)))

    As for the best and worst designed, I went with Cascade… On both… Call me a rebel.

    My reasons why it was the worst were the same as yours, turning a randomish mechanic into something abusive. And here is another “I wish I said that” moment… Using the three CMC 3 spells to cascade into Hypergenesis (and Restore Balance and Living End) is so NOT evocative that is almost makes the mind spasm.

    “I cast Violent Outburst.”
    “But… You have no creatures…”
    “Here, gimmie those scissors, I might as well cut off the bottom inch of the card.”
    “Oh, thats dumb.”
    “So dumb that its genius.”
    “Yeah, crazy like a fox is still crazy, I’m done playing.”

    But you mentioned Cascade NOT being Clash… I think its great we both used Clash, you used it to say the exact opposite.

    In a world in which Cascade is used “properly” its a WAY more exciting mini-game than Clash. (I would have written Cascade as “target opponent reveals cards from the top of your library until…” but I suspect thats more confusing than its worth.) When the results of a Cascade are genuinely randomish, its fun.

    Though, I think Cascade should only have gone some value deep, 5 maybe.

    Anyway, enough random rambling, good entry, hope to see you in the finals.

    – Ogre

    BTW, I did proceed, so, yeah, Cascade, great, or greatEST?

    Sure, but the question is, “mistake, or success?”

  5. Good read. It’s interesting to see what other people had to say. (I’m not in the running myself, as there’s no way I could move across the country, even for an amazing opportunity.) Another way I think you could argue away the haste on temporary stealing effects is that it’s in a way sort of fake haste; the cards have it because they have to have it to work more than for color pie reasons; when the effect was primarily in blue, it was on some of those cards too. It’s sort of like how suspend creatures came into play with haste; the mechanic requires it, color-pie decisions aside.

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