GDS 3 – Round 1 Essay Answers

Number 10 will shock you!

As of this blog post, the first round of the GDS3 has ended and applicants were to submit their answers to 10 questions. I thought I would post mine since we’re now allowed to.

For WotC, there’s no “right” answer, you just have to explain why you thought that way. Multiple people are going to give the same answer on a question (There’s only so many keywords in the game, especially evergreen keywords), so along with the multiple choice question and the actual designing of the cards, it’s how you think about Magic and if you can covey that idea that they’re looking for. I don’t believe that there’s “wrong” answers for anything, but there are some far unlikely to be taken more seriously, like making Cumulative Upkeep evergreen (apologies to the one person who suggested that).

So don’t be surprised if I have the same answers as your submission, we just thought along the same path. Hopefully, I’m able to explain my thinking about how I got there, which is the important part of the test. I feel like you needed to explain both parts of the question: the setup and the resolution. I deleted plenty of drafts where I didn’t feel as if I had answered them in the fashion that I wanted to. In the space of 250-350 words that we were asked to write, it’s hard to have that intro-setup-resolution-outro that one can be completely satisfied. I know I ramble on in my intros far more that what should be (which could be my defeat when it comes to this), so it was doubly hard for me here. See, I’m rambling here.

Right now, it all comes down to the multiple choice quiz and if I pass that the card design section. I feel comfortable, obviously, but you never know.

I am leaving out my answer to the first question because it’s just me talking about me. There’s one or two things in there that I’m not gonna share at the moment in the first question. IF I make it to the Top 8, and they post the essays, then that will be a different story, I guess.

  1. An evergreen mechanic is a keyword mechanic that shows up in (almost) every set. If you had to make an existing keyword mechanic evergreen, which one would you choose and why?

The keyword mechanic that I would move to evergreen would be Kicker. Even looking at the Storm Scale reasons (Design space: large, versatility: flexible, development: not problematic) shows that it could pass for being designed and developed for in multiple sets.

The issue with Kicker, however, is that it’s all encompassing and could swallow up other new mechanics that want to see print. The “controlled” kicker is a great way of keeping the mechanic in check without taking over. By making the mechanic “X effect, but bigger”, it can still keep new keywords open while not stealing the spotlight, much like Scry didn’t steal from Explore in Ixalan. For example, with the recent Ixalan block, kicker could have been used a number of ways to help create cards that push towards tribal play. Maybe it’s a conditional counterspell that becomes a hard one if it is kicked when you return a merfolk to your hand. It’s “X effect, but bigger.”

The real bonus of Kicker is making it flexible to the environment you’re trying to make; it’s a supplemental piece not a defining one. Both the effect and what the kicker cost is can vary wildly for the maybe ten cards in a set that Kicker would see print with. Returning Madness? Make the Kicker cost be to discard a card. Multi-color sets can receive multi-color mana kicker costs ala Dismantling Blow. This is the best way to blend in the mechanic with what the set goals are trying to achieve which what I think is important with an evergreen keyword.

The mechanic is simple enough to have players of all abilities understand it while being flexible to fit into a wide variety of planes and game environments. This is what makes a good evergreen mechanic and I believe that Kicker is the best one for this position.

  1. If you had to remove evergreen status from a keyword mechanic that is currently evergreen, which one would you remove and why?

If I was going to remove evergreen status from a keyword, I would remove Reach. Yes, I’m going to take away green’s main interaction with flying creatures.

In current Rivals of Ixalan Standard, there are 12 creatures that naturally have Reach (eight mono-green, one mono-red, one colorless artifact, one black/green and one Naya Legendary Dinosaur) averaging two a set, two green instants that grant Reach and a green mythic that can gain Reach it if another creature you control has Reach. Of those 15 cards with Reach, nine are common, three uncommon, one rare and two mythic.

On the flip side there are 119 creatures that have Flying naturally. Of those, 37 are mono-white, 34 are mono-blue, 24 are mono-black, five and mono-red, zero mono-green, and five are colorless. Is it implied that these 12 creatures can hold off 119 for limited play purposes?

Sure, at the moment green has six kill spells that target Flying creatures and two green/blue multi-color creatures that actually have Flying. These spells aren’t enough to breach the divide with the anti-flying crowd. Green is the only color without an iconic race to have flying, it’s at a huge disadvantage, why take Reach away?

Reach does two things, it doesn’t encourage attacking and it clogs up to board; it’s a blocking mechanic. The only way to make Reach interesting has been to add Vigilance to creatures so they could attack while not having the “shields down” moment. Limited environments in modern sets are all about two or three color combinations in draft; no one drafts mono-colored decks anymore because set aren’t designed that way. The access to flying or anti-flying creatures and spells are available to all if they draft it. Sure, green has a weakness to flying creatures, but it has Fight and it can still destroy them outright.

These interactions, and maybe a few more are needed when Reach goes away, can make up for a mechanic that just isn’t being used all that often. You can get rid of the evergreen status, but still keep the mechanic when needed, like Protection.

  1. You’re going to teach Magic to a stranger. What’s your strategy to have the best possible outcome?

My strategy to have the best possible outcome, to have another person to play Magic with, would be to talk to them. I’ve done this several times before whenever I’ve played in public and it works out pretty well. Usually they’re curious about the cards or the art and want to know more.

The easiest way to hook them in is to find out what player psychographic they’re in.

Obviously, they’re not going to know Timmy, Spike or Johnny right of the bat, you have to figure it out from the other games they play. Ask them what other games they like and why they like to play those games. You need to be able to read them and when they start to fit into one of the three player profiles, start to move your conversation towards that profile. Do they like Hearthstone because of the competitive aspect? Show them that Magic can have as much strategy as they can handle and explain how the colors win. If they like Yu-Gi-Oh and big plays, demonstrate how big you can get creatures and the type of effects you can generate. Netrunner and creating cool decks that do something? They’re a Johnny so explain the interactions and combos that Magic can create.

Next is actually playing a game with them. The best way is to go slow and use very basic cards. Don’t try to teach them strategy, just the basics of attacking, blocking, spell casting and the natural rules of the game. When the game dictates, point out plays or moves that work with their profile; once they start seeing the connections, they’ll want to embrace it more.

The key is not to overwhelm them in information, just let it happen naturally. Then, after a game or two, you can show them more cards that would interest them, like Phyrexian Revoker, Soul of Zendikar or Relentless Assault. Giving them a few of your cards for them to keep and look through isn’t a bad parting gift as well.

  1. What is Magic’s greatest strength and why?

Magic’s greatest strength as a game is the Color Pie.

Shouldn’t come too much as a shock coming from a person who’s adapted this concept as their online handle, right?

The Color Pie isn’t controlled by not only what the colors can do but, and possibly more importantly, what they can’t do. There are abilities and concepts that are shared by the colors, but they all come down to simple concept: What is this color trying to do to win the game? Each of the colors has a core identity: white wants peace, blue wants perfection, black wants power, red wants freedom and green wants acceptance. From there, abilities and mechanics of the color spawn to define the identities and create separation between them.

Colors need to have both strength and weaknesses, if they don’t then what’s the point of having multiple factions in the first place? I’ve played other card games where the identity between the factions weren’t clear and the mechanics all ran together. There was nothing special to make me pick one faction over another. Sure, they each had aspects of the game they were good at but there were no drawbacks.

By why should any color be bad at something? It creates the tension in the gameplay and card design that helps make the game distinct. If a mono-red deck suddenly encounters an enchantment they can’t remove due to red’s inability to interact with enchantments, suddenly it changes the dynamic of the game: can they win before the enchantment is able to stop them? If Red can focus on the win-now approach against blue’s slow attempt to collect all of the knowledge strategy, then natural tension is built because they both have a weakness to take advantage of.

The color is one of the most basic and important aspects of a card. From there we can tell what the card is trying to do and how that fits into the game. That’s why the Color Pie is Magic’s greatest strength.

  1. What is Magic’s greatest weakness and why?

Magic’s greatest weakness is its complexity.

A game that’s been around for 25 years is bound to have be a little bit complex, but I don’t think I’ve seen a game where the rulebook was over 220 pages. That makes some sense with just shy of 20,000 unique cards, but there are pages in the rulebook for every little detail about the game. Every keyword that Magic has supported and abandoned during a quarter of a century must be talked about in case someone encounters it.

It’s not only the rulebook, but it’s also the various actions during the game that don’t always make sense, but it has to for the rule’s sake. To “Morph” a creature, it actually “unmorphs” and is a special action that doesn’t use the stack. But don’t worry, the stack is a zone all to itself that’s a metaphorical transitional zone where cards are cast and effects happen. You can see where all of this jargon and details might get lost on a new player, or even someone who don’t play very much.

And this doesn’t even touch the cards in a game and all of the decisions have to be made. From the cards on the battlefield, hand and graveyard that interact with each other to the decision trees that must be made to make certain lines of play, all the information can be very overwhelming. Too much (perceived or real) complexity can drive away new and potential players; the barrier to entry is too high if they want to play so there’s a real chance they won’t ever begin. Without new customers, the game will slowly die, and no one wants that.

While this is a weakness, it doesn’t mean complexity will kill Magic. By vigilantly monitoring complexity, it can be kept in check. I believe that New World Order has helped a great deal in this regard. Good design is as little design as possible.

  1. What Magic mechanic most deserves a second chance (aka which had the worst first introduction compared to its potential)?

The mechanic that deserves a second chance is a little tricky. First, it can’t be a repetitive mechanic since modern design doesn’t really support those types of keywords anymore (So, no Retrace), and it needs potential for it to see print with more cards (goodbye my first pick Clash after some investigation). This brings me to my choice: Haunt. Let’s look at Haunt for a moment:

Haunt (When this creature dies/When this spell card is put into a graveyard after resolving, exile it haunting target creature.)

All spells and creatures that had Haunt gave the haunted creature dying trigger the same effect. Because of this, it also gave the mechanic the least powerful and uninteresting effects because they had to resolve twice. But what happens if we don’t tie the effects together? Why do we need to shape Haunt this way? What if Haunt is still worded the same, but the “haunting” part is changed slightly?

Casper – W
Creature – Human
Haunted creature gets +1/+1.

Now you’ve opened the idea of haunting helping or hurting creatures as they now have the spirits affecting from the exile zone (flavor win).

Unending Nightmare – 2BB
Target player discards a card.
Haunted creature has, “At the beginning of your upkeep, discard a card.”

Suddenly, Haunt becomes an untargetable aura that doesn’t need the same enters the battlefield ability.

Since the card with Haunt becomes exiled it doesn’t really need to be a physical card that haunts the creature now. What if it’s a “token” that you can print and put in packs like Embalm tokens? This works for the Monarch and the City’s Blessing, two mechanics that players can’t interact with directly, so it could work for haunt as well. If you have a token to represent the “hauntings” then it can be much easier to track like the Embalm creatures from Amonkhet.

This opens the mechanic to be nearly endless with design. Haunt deserves another shot, partially because it would be so poetic with the mechanic.

  1. Of all the Magic expansions that you’ve played with, pick your favorite and then explain the biggest problem with it.

My favorite expansion of all time was Time Spiral. I have been playing since Revised so I loved all of the references to the older cards and mechanics that I had been playing for more than 10 years. Plus, the timeshifted sheet allowed me to play with cards I never thought were going to see print again. Thallid? And my favorite art? Awesome. I’m not a Vorthos but I understood most of the art references and the mechanics of the card. The set was brimming with nostalgia.

The biggest problem with Time Spiral was the fact it was an overly complicated set, mechanics and flavorwise. Time Spiral was a set for enfranchised players. If you hadn’t been playing from before with these keywords, then the game looked way too complicated, like the problem I mentioned earlier. The most basic creature was Ashcoat Bear, and it was a 2/2 bear with Flash. So many triggers like Morph, Suspend, Flashback and Echo divided player’s attention to so many different places it was silly.

This was the first time we have visited Dominaria in four years so none of the references were fresh; the Magus cycle’s latest reference was almost eight years’ prior. Everything had to have a reference or three which explained the lack of simple creatures and why the set was so complicated. The mechanics and flavor of the set can’t be broken apart because of this. I mean Ironclaw Buzzardiers is a combination of Ironclaw Orcs and Goblin Balloon Brigade.

Time Spiral is as close as we’re going to get to a Standard release of a cube-like product. That’s why so many long-term players loved it, but you don’t teach someone Magic by handing them a cube and say, “Well, here you go. Good luck.” The Masters sets have learned from this mistake even though they’re not a Standard legal set. The set is fun and it’s my favorite but it’s certainly not without faults, being way too complicated is certainly the biggest.

  1. Of all the Magic expansions that you’ve played with, pick your least favorite and then explain the best part about it.

And we go from one overly complicated set to another; my least favorite Magic set is Dragon’s Maze. How can I love one complicated set yet dislike another? Does nostalgia have something to do with it? Sure, but I like the Ravnica plane and the guild model tickles my Color Pie fancy. What’s so wrong about Dragon’s Maze (before we get to the good part)?

Dragon’s Maze felt like a studio mandated movie sequel where all these parts had to be met to mandate it hits certain demographics. There were very few ways to shove everything that needed to be in to the third set to make it work and I believe this iteration wasn’t one of those ways. The 10 guild mechanics were barely used and the cards that were meant to supplement the guilds felt like they fit in the most awkward of ways. Plus there was the need to tie in all the gates together and make that subtheme work.

But the best part, by far, was the Fuse mechanic. Yes, the 11th mechanic in the block, this one was a simple execution on the one of the most unique parts of Magic: the split cards. By implementing Fuse, it opened up easier multicolor play by allowing the decks playing them to go into three colors. Even though the dual multicolor split card was done in Dissension, here the design of the Fuse cards naturally played off each other. In Dissension, they were just two different cards, same as the Invasion block ones. But with Dragon’s Maze, if you wanted to, you could set up for the huge Ready//Willing surprise attack or block. These designs felt more natural, a want design instead of a needed mandate.

And that’s the trouble with this set which is why third, and now second, sets in a block were done away with. Cards do need to be balanced with the environment they’re in, but Dragon’s Maze was just too rigid. Fuse cards are natural and the best part in a very lackluster set.

  1. You have the ability to change any one thing about Magic. What do you change and why?

With the ability to change any one thing in Magic, I would love the ability to change the philosophy of the Masterpiece series. No, it’s not the most pressing change, but without knowing all of the knowledge behind the scenes, I feel like this can be hugely beneficial for everyone.

When they were first announced after the success of the Zendikar Explorations, I was ecstatic. Here was a chance to reprint valuable cards in a Standard legal set without affecting it. It was great that the Masterpieces were being put with the theme of the plane and the Kaladesh Inventions looked great in their frames. But there were 50 different Masterpieces per two set

My question became what happens when it’s card 201 after 2 years? Will players be excited for a Masterpiece Duress? As we know, the Masterpiece series was put on hold after 1 year and some mixed player response. Why does it need to change?

Because the Masterpiece series worked for several reasons: It helped sell more boxes since people wanted the feeling of opening a Masterpiece, it helped create more reasonable prices for the secondary market (even though you can’t acknowledge it), and it gave player more options for “pimping” out their decks and cubes. People didn’t have to play with the cards if they didn’t want to and could sell/trade them for cards they did need. You put chase cards in a set without affecting Standard. It was a win for everybody and needs to be brought back, just refocused.

There was just too many Masterpieces per a block and the art needs to be the focus on the card. Cards like Divert, Boil and Shatterstorm have their fans, but as Invocations I felt they missed the mark with the theme. By cutting down the quantity per a release, the number of cards that can be reprinted can go up for the long term as well as keep the specialness of the series. I know I want old frame Masterpieces for Dominaria, I would buy more packs to open one of those.

Thoughts, questions, you want to argue with one of my choices? Reply below or you can find me on twitter @mtgcolorpie. If you’re on Reddit, make your way over to r/GDS3 where I started a subreddit about the contest.


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