For the first test of the Great Designer Search 2, we had to write ten 250-350 word essays answering questions about the game.  Here were my thoughts on the questions.  I’ve also included my answers as spoilers.

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

This was the standard first question.  I won’t bore you with my tooting of my own horn.  Let’s just get on to question 2.

2. 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.

In the last Great Designer Search, they asked about what color countering should be moved to.  In this one, they decided to leave it more open ended.  This question was one of the easier questions for me to answer, as the mechanic that I wanted to change jumped almost immediately to mind.  Hopefully, the design team agrees.

[spoiler]The core question here is “what ability is currently being applied to the wrong color?”  When I read the question that way, one ability stands out:  Shroud.  With that in mind, I would shift the ability shroud (or any “cannot be the target of spells or abilities”) from blue to white.  White is all about protection, defense, and prevention.  Shroud is such a tight fit into that theme that it is natural that it would be a white ability.

As described in Mark Rosewater’s Keyword Play article, the design team was in “blue still needs help” mode at the time the decision was made.  That is, he started from the conclusion that blue needed to have another ability, and then justified the decision with evidence from a time when the color wheel was much less refined/defined.  If the design team had started from the premise that the color wheel should guide the placement of shroud, I believe shroud would have been placed in white from the beginning.

It seems artificial – even forced – to have shroud in blue at all.  I understand the desire to give some form of “french vanilla” creature ability to blue, but the heart of the problem lies in Mark’s concern that blue have a distinction from the protective nature of white.  The concern was justified; the solution was not.  There are several alternatives that could be given to blue, including card drawing abilities, permanent bouncing, and so on.  I contend that there is no need to make the distinction between white and blue if shroud isn’t put into blue at all.

Let’s put shroud where it belongs: in white.[/spoiler]

3. 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?

One thing that was interesting to me was the extreme direction this question took.  In GDS1, we were asked to describe the biggest problem with Ravnica (considered one of the best blocks at the time), and the best part of Kamigawa (considered one of the worst blocks at the time).  In those two questions, I was forced to pull to the middle; I had to answer about the worst of the best and about the best of the worst.

In this question, I was asked to go the opposite direction.  “What block was the best, and how would you have made it better.”  Fortunately, the first part of this answer jumped out at me right away.  I thanked my lucky stars that I had read the novels for this block, too, as that deep knowledge informed my choice for the improvement.


I think Lorwyn Block did the best job of integrating design with creative.

The storyline, stretched across four novels, did a wonderful job of setting the tone for the world of Lorwyn, and then smashing that world apart.  The light quality of Lorwyn was a decisive sharp contrast with the dark world of Shadowmoor.

As a huge fan of the Fallen Empires set, I was quite pleased with Lorwyn’s “creature-type matters” design.  This theme of tribe loyalty fit well into the xenophobic storyline of the Lorwyn block novels.  As I read the mechanics on each card I remembered thinking that they were good fits, not just for the color pie, but for the creature-types representing those slices of the color pie.

The thing that felt out of place was the new planeswalkers.  I didn’t feel they contributed well to the storyline Lorwyn at all.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say they felt “tacked on.”

As we play cards like Rhys, Brigid, or Nath, we are reminded of their place in the storyline, and their interactions with each other.  In a battlefield where Rhys and Nath are on the same side, we are reminded of the early Lorwyn storyline; where they oppose, we are reminded of Rhys’ exile.

Yes, it was cool to finally see the planeswalkers described on Tarmogoyf, and I’m sure there were few complaints from the players.  Further, I understand that they were necessary from a design perspective; had they not been printed in the block that followed Time Spiral, then part of Tarmogoyf’s functionality would have been neutered in the standard environment.  Nonetheless, if planeswalkers had played a more prominent role in the novels, I think the connection would have been stronger.


4. 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?

At this point, I was starting to feel that these questions were written for me.  There is a rules change that happened at the beginning of 2010 that completely ruined a deck I tested a long time ago.  I thought the change was pointless, and really constrained the design space of the game.  Again, this question took no time to answer.


RULE TO CHANGE: Rule 110.5a

I would remove rule 110.5a and return to token ownership approach from pre-2010.  That is, I would want the owner of a token to be the player whose spell or ability caused the token to come into play.

In addition to rendering a single card (Brand) and a potential deck design worthless, this rule unnecessarily tightened the design space of the controller/owner interactions.

Re Brand:  I’ve seen whole deck strategies could be built around this card.  The premise of the deck is to use spells and abilities to that give other players token creatures, and then steal the tokens back using Brand.  Cards that benefit from this ability – IF we purge this rule – include Varchild’s War Riders, all of the “Hunted” creatures, Pongify, and Forbidden Orchard.  While the card is still useful with cards like Sky Swallower and Cultural Exchange, it was useful with those cards before the 2010 change.

Re Design Space:  In Forsythe & Gottlieb’s Magic 2010 Rules Changes article, they explained that the token ownership rules wasn’t well understood, and that it allowed players to do “unintuitive tricks” like Brand and Warp World.  I think this argument puts the cart before the horse.  That is, when the design team created Brand, they had to have been aware of the rules related to token creatures.  The interaction with the old rule was no accident; it was created to be a potential design strategy.  With that in mind, I think this new constraint limits future designs of cards that have “owner matters” mechanics built into their designs.

Ownership of tokens doesn’t matter most of the time.  When it does, it doesn’t take much to add a reminder “(the owner of a token is the owner of the card that created that token)” to the few cards that make ownership matter.[/spoiler]

5. 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?

This one took a bit more research than the others.  My initial thought was to look at cards on both extremes.  That is, cards that were too good, and cards that were not good at all.  It was when I was searching through the latter of the two that I stumbled across an M11 card that defecated the design rules for the color pie.

My biggest problem on this one was constraining my answer to 350 words.  I could have probably written 1,000, complete with annotated footnotes.


The card is Hornet Sting.

Clearly there are times when color bleed should occur.  For example, when a new block is being designed, exceptions are made to the rules that allow for color bleed to meet the needs and theme of the block.  M11, however, is not a new block.  It is a core set.  There are well-established rules for color bleed in Magic design, as stated many times by Making Magic.  A few examples include:

–On the response to question 13 of GDS1’s multiple choice test, it was made clear that “Green’s direct damage does not hit non-fliers,” and the design team (for good reason) rarely does color bleed at common.

–Design 101: “Magic colors are clearly defined. When you design a card that seems like a nice simple card that does something the color hasn’t done before (or at least hasn’t done since Magic’s early days), think twice about why it hasn’t been done yet. If it’s a new, unexplored area, that’s great. If it’s an obvious mechanic that you’ve seen done in other colors, odds are you’re about to make a mistake.

–Common Courtesy: “Because commons define the environment, R&D is careful to keep exceptions to color philosophy (what we in R&D call bleeds) restricted to the rarer end of the spectrum. The reason for this is simple. Bleeds should be special.”

–10 Mental Locks (described in Mental Lock #7): “The wrong kinds of bleeds are the ones that bleed for the sake of bleeding. These are cards that get their novelty by trying to do something that they aren’t supposed to.”

This isn’t a rare.
It isn’t tied to a block.
It isn’t a new design feature or mechanic or a new look at design.
It isn’t special.

It’s just an overcosted common that uses its inefficiency to justify its bleed.  The relatively small benefit of this card, when compared to the compromises it demands, just isn’t worth it.

Yes, there are times when color bleed should occur; this isn’t one of them.[/spoiler]

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

In GDS1, when asked what design could do better, I answered that it was having a problem getting the word out.  I started to answer this question that way, but I soon realized that this wasn’t exactly something that design could control.  I decided to fall back on my training in educational technology, and get into teacher mode.

[spoiler]In order to answer this question, I look at the problem from the perspective of an instructor.  With that in mind, I have three recommendations.

First, introduce more constrained computer-based games like Duel of the Planeswalkers, and create more expansions for that game.  The constraints of that environment teach the player about a variety of decks without making the game overwhelming.

Second, continue to value simplicity in design.  Magic is already more accessible than most games simply because of its elegant design.  Keep it that way.

My third recommendation is something new: develop a low-cost, Magic the Gathering “instructional set” with an instructor’s guide.  This set consist of two multi-color decks that would be discovered over a period of time.  The decks would start at 30 cards each, and would grow as mastery of game mechanics is attained.  In addition to throttling out card types, the most prominent keywords would be throttled out slowly with each set.  In addition, ALL keywords would have instructional text on the card to make it easier for players to learn.

Each deck would have the following:

Level 1 would include 30 cards, consisting of a mix of creatures, sorceries and lands.  Players would learn to master combat, and the spells that they can play on their own turns.
Level 2 would add 10 cards, consisting of instants and creatures with instant-speed abilities.  Players would learn to master effects played on another player’s turns.
Level 3 would add 10 cards, consisting of creatures with enduring abilities, artifacts and enchantments.  Players would learn how to use permanents to improve their game.
Finally, level 4 would include 10 cards, consisting of multicolor cards, legendary creatures, and one or more planeswalkers.

The key is progression.  After 3 to 6 games at each level, players will be ready to advance to the next level.

This set could be used by two players to learn the game by themselves, or used by an experienced player to teach the game (more on that in the next answer).[/spoiler]

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

This one was tough for me because maintaining experienced players is something that I believe design does very well.  I had to think back to my past, about how I felt when I took my initial hiatus, and what could have been done to alleviate those concerns.

[spoiler]Frankly, design currently does an outstanding job of making the game attractive to experienced players through innovation.  There are 3 areas, however, where I recommend special emphasis.

First, when considering power levels, the design team must be mindful of the extended, legacy, and vintage formats.  The goal here is to assure players of the long term value of their investments.  One of the primary reasons for my initial hiatus from magic in 1998 was the fear that the continuous release of new sets would cause the value of my collection to diminish.  I felt that the newer cards I was buying would not be useful in the vintage format, and would lose their value once they rolled out of the standard environment. I was afraid to buy more, and I wanted to get out before my money was lost.  While minimizing power creep, design must be sure to make cards playable in the older, more inclusive formats.

Second, design should create more cards that support a variety of sanctioned events.  This includes two-headed giant, emperor, EDH, and mass multiplayer games.  Experienced players, especially casual players, often reach a point where they become bored with the regular game, and they want to try out new forms of play.  Through small variations, such as abilities that affect all opponents rather than single opponents, the design team can open up the deck-design space for these players.

Third, like question 6, design should continue to value simplicity in design.  Part of the joy of magic for experienced players is the joy of teaching new players to play the game.  In order to do this, Magic must stick to a fundamental premise: the rules must be simple, and any variation to the rules should be clearly stated on the cards.  To be clear, this last one is something that design currently does well.  I only mention it because it is THAT important.[/spoiler]

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

Not much to say, here.  This one was fairly easy, as the mechanic jumped out at me right away.  I love scalable cards, and this mechanic is a perfect fit into that scalability.

[spoiler]I think the best designed mechanic is Multikicker, for four reasons.

1.  Given the simplicity of kicker and the understanding of kicker with experienced players, multikicker is probably one of the easiest mechanics in Extended to understand.

2.  It expands design space, and allows us to have simple casting rules for otherwise complex or unusual costs.  For example, it allows Comet Storm to effectively have an XY casting cost without actually having something as complex as “XY” in the casting cost.  Likewise, it allows Everflowing Chalice to have an effective casting cost of X/2.

3.  Magic has creatures that level up as well as cards with X in their casting cost.  These cards, like cards with multikicker, allow for single cards to be scalable.  From a design perspective, multikicker is a nice “medium” between these two extremes.  Like X cards, we force the cards to scale at the time of casting, but like level-up creatures we can allow the cost of that scaling involve something other than colorless mana.

4.  We often discuss synergy between cards (linear mechanics), but we rarely discuss the value of “anti-synergy,” or tension, between cards.  Multikicker expands the decision tree of the player and creates an natural tension during gameplay.  When considering a multikicker card, the player must decide whether to play the card now, or to wait until the card could be made stronger in a future turn.  As Steve Sadin described in his article, The True Cost of Multikicker, this natural tension was amplified in the standard environment by the mutual mechanics of multikicker and landfall.

Of all of the mechanics in Extended, multikicker is the one that I would most like to see pulled into the core mechanics of the game.[/spoiler]

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

After reading question 8, I could augur what was going to be asked in this question.  While 8 was easy, this question was probably the hardest question for me to answer on the test.  The reason for this is that the design team is actually very good at vetting new mechanics.  Occasionally a bad one, like affinity, will slip by, but the days of banding and islandhome are far behind us.

For this question, I decided to settle in on the mechanics that made the least sense and were the least consistent.  When I took that approach, the worst mechanic was much easier to find.

[spoiler]I think the worst designed mechanic is Chroma.

We apply keywords to certain abilities to make cards easier to discuss, to open design space, and to make it easy to understand multiple cards that have the same mechanics.  Chroma is problematic in that it doesn’t accomplish these goals well.  Yes, it defines a keyword, so later cards that affect cards with Chroma will have an easier time in their text.  Unfortunately, no other cards affecting Chroma have been developed.  Further, its limited use makes the creation of any such cards unlikely.  With that in mind, it doesn’t seem to create much design space.

The biggest problem with chroma is that it doesn’t really mean much.  The only thing that we know is that Chroma requires the player to count mana symbols (though WHERE those mana symbols will be counted still requires explanation in the text) to produce some scalable ability.

Design should have either constrained the scope of Chroma OR included a mana symbol and an explanation – similar to multikicker – to make it easier for players to grok.  Possibly both.  For example, if constrained to the “cost of permanents you control on the battlefield” approach, a card could say:

Chroma (R) – Deal 1 damage to target creature (When CARDNAME is played, it deals 1 damage to target creature for each mana symbol in the mana costs of permanents you control).

Years later, this mechanic could be re-used, and  “Chroma (R) – Deal 1 damage to target creature” would be the only ability text required.   Any player familiar with Chroma would understand the meaning.

As a thought experiment, I would ask you, the reader of this answer, to consider the mechanic I just described, and then read the following cards abilities:

1.  Chroma (W) – Gain 2 life
2.  Chroma (G) – Target creature gains shroud
3.  Chroma (U) – Scry 1.

My guess is that you already know exactly what they mean.[/spoiler]

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

This was my dream question.  In fact, I found it slightly ironic that Mark Rosewater joked about “Homelands 2” during the sequel-week article that announced GDS2.  If there was ever a set that I wanted to revisit, Homelands is it.

If I get to the third test, I am going to build my theme around my answer to this question.

[spoiler]I would revisit Ulgrotha, the plane of the Homelands set.  To be clear, we would NOT attempt to fit this block into the original set; it would be whole new block based on modern design principles.  Thematically, we’ll say that Feroz’s Ban prevented the magic in Ulgrotha from evolving with the rest of the Multiverse, causing the Homelands set to suck.  Now that it is gone, Ulgrotha has “caught up.”

Homelands contained many “color matters” effects, so I would build on the premise that color and land-type (and the ability to manipulate both) matters.  It would also be a block that rewards mono-colored play.  Along those lines, it will not only be confined to the color pie, but it will concentrate it to the extreme.  Most blocks and sets pull the color pie in one direction or another, depending on the needs of the format; this block would be somewhat of a “calibration,” building on the color pie’s foundation.

Two primary mechanics to include would be:

–Color counters, such as red counters, white counters, etc, and abilities based on a counter’s color-type (protection from a counter’s color, changing creature’s color based on a counter’s color type, etc).  To clarify this mechanic, think of the card Jeweled Amulet from Ice Age.  Colored counters would be used to keep track of the mana type instead of generic “charge counters” that you have to remember.

–Land counters, such as forest counters, island counters, etc, and abilities based on a counter’s land-type. (landwalk of a counter’s land-type, changing land-type based on counter-type, etc).

In addition, certain keywords and mechanics could return, such as Conspire.

In Noel deCordova’s The Lens of Creativity article, he posted an image of the cards Mind Bend and Artificial Evolution with a note to R&D: “These are useless!! -Spike.”   I would like the Ulgrotha revisit to make Spike wish for a Mind Bend.

NOTE: while not Planar Chaos, this set would provide a thematic and mechanical opportunity to print a white Memory Lapse.


Update: I received an e-mail today.  I made it to Round 2.  I can’t wait for the test on Wednesday!