Friday, May 20, 2011

Contest Results

After careful deliberation and some slight delay, the three designs (for what will hopefully be the first of many design contests here at Goblin Artisans) have been chosen. Though we didn't receive quite as many submissions as I would have hoped, there was still a fair amount of competition. As we contributors aren't of a hivemind, I won't be able to speak for the reasoning behind my compatriots' selections, but I'll do my best to explain what influenced my own thought process through the various critiques.

For a bit more preamble, the basic rubric that I used to evaluate designs was the following:

1. Is the submission a top-down design?
2. How resonant is that concept?
3. Did the designer successfully convey that concept?
4. Was the designer able to convey the concept with precision and clarity?
5. Does the design function well enough that it could see print?

Each voting contributor was asked to choose a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place design, with each vote possessing an inverse point value. (i.e. 1st Place = 3 Points)

3rd Place - Branding Slaver (Submitted by Alex Spalding / aka luminum can)

» Click to Reveal «

Branding Slaver was by far the cleanest design submitted, but the concept failed to make a great splash with voters, commonly finding itself on the receiving end of 2nd and 3rd place votes. This may be a reflection of opinions on black's access to creature-steal effects, discussed recently on the Mothership in a blurb regarding Enslave's reprinting, but I suspect it was also a result of how the Slaver has a curious build that mostly resembles a blue creature. That said, Branding Slaver scored high in all categories of the rubric above, securing my first place vote. I do feel that the word "branding" speaks most clearly of "fire", however, and thus would have loved to see a Wither-blessed pinger with a more temporary steal effect.

2nd Place - Sorcerer's Spellbook (Submitted by Nicholas Grayson)

» Click to Reveal «

The concept of the spellbook is undoubtedly resonant, but as Nicholas' accompanying explanation commented upon, the only spellbook in Magic is, well, Spellbook. While I have concerns regarding the cumbersome Imprint effect (the phrase "X+1 or less" should be illegal) and the card's relationship to Isochron Scepter (and Panoptic Mirror), the design manages to build upon that template in a manner that does a fair job of expressing what it set out to express.

1st Place - Painting Cave (Submitted by Jules Robin)

» Click to Reveal «

In case the concept behind this card is hard to decipher, I'll let an excerpt from Jules' submission explain:

This card is a top down design for a cave you paint in. It produces a mana as per modern land design, but the second and third abilities are flavor-based. The second represents your creatures painting the creatures they've fought and the tactics they used to kill it, while the third ability allows your other creatures to look at the paintings and learn how best to hunt that kind of animal. Obviously a development team might need to tweak the numbers, but I liked the 1, 2, 3 progression as a subliminal representation of progress through gaining knowledge.
While I stand by the group selection, this design is quite messy. Both the 1st and 2nd place submissions attest to the difficulty of working with Imprint in a concise manner, and each of the designers have further burdened their cards with an excess of costs and/or abilities. As Jules' intention is that Painting Cave would most logically appear in a tribal-block, I believe there are two simple revisions that can be executed to preserve the integrity of the concept while significantly streamlining and strengthening the design:
  • Remove the additional cost from the Imprint trigger.
  • Make the protection ability require tapping.
The added cost within the Imprint trigger, seemingly inserted because Painting Cave is a land, ignores the fact that there's already a fair and unique restriction placed on the trigger — that the opposing creature must die having combated one of your creatures. And this additional cost has its own additional cost of seven extra words. At no point do you want a land (even a nonbasic land), a card type that commonly finds itself in the background of a match, to appear like it has an essay written upon it.

That the protection ability doesn't require tapping is perhaps the greatest problem; you will not find a single other land with a non-tapping activated ability other than Dark Depths and Manlands. Some may believe this is due to a conservative approach to the power-level of lands, but I wouldn't be surprised to find out that it's almost exclusively a result of concerns regarding board complexity, as having a land with a reusable ability is an awfully hard thing to keep track of in the heat of battle. Especially when that land has nine lines of text and grants protection.

Regardless of the criticisms presented, I'm very happy with how this turned out. Like I said at the start, I hope that we can continue to engage and support the Magic community with further contests in the near future. I would have liked to discuss all the submissions in great detail, but time is of the essence and I thought it vital that I actually get these results up before the prizes rotated out of Standard.

All winners should PM a mailing address or MTGO handle to our Facebook account and I will hop to distributing the prizes as quick as possible. Please feel free to comment regarding thoughts on the contest, suggestions for future contests, and anything else that springs to mind.


  1. It's probably telling that the top two winners make use of Imprint.

    Good work, everyone, it took me a second to parse the two above mine, but when I "got" them they worked. I do agree that both look a bit messier than I'm comfortable with; top-down effects work best when they're easy to interpret quickly. Still, I bow to the will of the masses. Congratulations!

  2. While it's entirely possible for two designers to come to the same design through wildly different methods (in this case through top-down or bottom-up design), cards like Painting Cave /feel/ distinctly top-down while cards like Branding Slaver (which I always read as Branding Sliver) /feel/ like bottom-up design.

    While playability, readability and fun were factors, my biggest criterion in this contest was resonance through top-down design. I believe the imprint theme (which the Slaver also has, at a certain level) was purely coincidental.

  3. Fair enough. I'm not complaining or anything; it wasn't up to me to decide. I still think the flavor concepts of the top two could have been executed in a much more elegant manner, but if mine doesn't feel top-down in the first place that's a different matter entirely.

    My comment about Imprint was meant to point out that the mechanic lends itself well to top-down concepts. There are a wide range of objects and ideas that can involve that customization process; it also allows a single card to embody several different concepts (Isochron Scepter is a wand that casts fire spells, ice spells, or whatever else you like).

  4. Jay, want to explain how your perception that the Slaver has some relationship to imprint? I don't quite see that and I'm curious what you mean.

    Overall, the greatest stumbling block for most submissions was that they often felt like great designs that were just provided clever names to create the illusion of top-down. Now, that's perhaps overly subjective, but most of us were in agreement regarding those that felt very bottom-up.

    Another issue that I feel pertinent to mention in light of my critique of the Slaver is that one or two designs went a bit too far with color-bleeding in the service of an overly rigid abstract idea, rather than the service of good design. For example: Zorro as a monowhite creature (ok) with flash (good) AND haste (huh?).

  5. As opposed to, say, Form of the Dragon?

  6. Assuming you're not being snarky: yes.

    The Moat-bleed further solidifies the concept of being a dragon without interfering with the cohesion of other elements. In the case of Zorro, I understand that he's supposed to be quick, but flash + haste is a certain level of redundancy that rarely matters. Not to the mention, the two abilities required the following trigger:

    "If you or a creature you control has been dealt damage since the beginning of your last upkeep, Don Diego the Fox has flash and haste."

    Extremely flavorful, but altogether too cumbersome for very little payoff.

  7. That makes more sense, thank you. I interpreted your statement as meaning you were opposed to color bleeding at all in top-down designs. May I ask what issues along those lines you had with the Slaver, as well?

  8. Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to suggest I had that particular issue with your design. I was just elaborating on my statement in the article that my fellow Artisans may have scored Slaver low due to concerns about its "blueness". By which I mean:

    1. It's a creature that steals creatures.
    2. The 1/3 body is very uncommon among Modern black creatures.

  9. Fair enough. I felt the flavor was strong enough to stand on its own but not everyone agrees, naturally. I honestly had not even thought about it being blue, as the concept felt so strongly black in my mind. It "brands" creatures with debilitating scars, enslaves the creatures it has branded, sets them free when their slavedriver is killed. I guess blue could fit that concept, but the cruelty of it and the idea of a slave trader instantly led me towards black.

  10. Hooray, good entries. I agree about X+1 being supremely evil. I just couldn't think of another way to convey the idea that the Sorcerer is learning more and better spells to add to his or her repertoire. At least not in the time for the contest.

    I also agree that the best top-down cards are simple and evocative. We all had good ideas, but didn't strip them down to be their best versions. I look forward to the next contest!

  11. Branding Slaver marks certain cards as being relevant to it and then continues to reference those cards later. It does this via -1/-1 counters and control effects, whereas imprint does it by exiling the cards in question. Very different in function but more similar at a high conceptual level than many cards.

  12. @ Nicholas - Given infinite time or simply a desire to refine, I think it's likely that the growth element must simply be separated from variable costs. A cleaner but somewhat less powerful concept could be something like:

    Sorcerer's Spellbook
    Imprint - Whenever you cast an instant or sorcery spell you may exile that card.
    X, T: Reveal the top X cards of your library. You may cast any revealed cards that share a name with a card exiled by Sorcerer's Spellbook without paying their mana costs, then exile the rest.

    Like this, the importance of casting spells in order to reap greater rewards is just as strong, but no longer spelled out so explicitly using awkward phrases.

    @ Jay - I get what you're saying. Certainly, to template Branding Slaver as a creature with Imprint would be a significant pain involving temporary exile and token copies with different stats. No wonder they just said "screw it" and made Phyrexian Digestor.

  13. Metaghost's Sorcerer's Spellbook is awesome!! It really feels like you've "learned" a spell.

  14. Thanks Chah!

    Gotta flex on deez contestants like I know a thing about a thing.