Monday, March 5, 2018

GDS3 Discussions: Jay Treat's Challenge 2 Submission

(These posts are being backdated for administrative purposes. They were not disclosed to nor published on this site prior to their publication on the mothership. You can read the judge commentary on Jay's submission on his official GDS page)

Bigtopia is a loud set that invites players to experience the thrill of show business.

Ringmaster (GUR)

We ask players to walk a tightrope to keep the big show going—rewarding them for casting a spell on each of their turns.

Rebound (WUBRG)

The return of a popular mechanic helps make that feat possible.

Exalted (GW)
A good ringmaster must keep the audience focused, keeping other performers back in support of the one in the spotlight.

Peak Performance (RWB)

You've got to train hard to perform the most impressive feats of daring. Exalted helps you reach the threshold of 5 power where you really shine.

Rogues (UB)

The circus is a veritable rogue's gallery. Be careful not to cross one, because they're all family.

"The Only Show on Earth" has a secret purpose: This tiny Romani-inspired plane is being used by a devious Planeswalker as a prison in disguise. Planar magic compels inhabitants to aspire to be the circus's greatest performers, a feat accomplished only by the most daring and dedicated. This villain wipes his enemies' minds and deposits them here, where they are swept up into the act, too distracted to wonder about their old lives.

This plane's inhabitants and magic are amusing, unique, risky, and impressive.

Bigtopia's aesthetic is: bright lights/dark shadows; colorful/striped; and loud/bustling. Common art should depict the circus's band and pipe organ to evoke the associated music.

1) Acrobatics (common)
Target creature gets +1/+1 and gains flying until end of turn.
Rebound (If you cast this spell from your hand, exile it as it resolves. At the beginning of your next upkeep, you may cast this card from exile without paying its mana cost.)

2) Unicycle (common)
Artifact — Equipment
Equipped creature gets +1/+1 and can't be blocked by more than one creature.
Equip 3

3) Knife Thrower (uncommon)
Creature — [Human] Rogue
When Knife Thrower enters the battlefield, target creature an opponent controls gets -1/-1 until end of turn for each differently named Rogue you control.

4) Tightrope (uncommon)
At the beginning of your end step, scry 1. Sacrifice Tightrope unless you have cast a spell this turn.

5) Traveling Circus (rare)
Enchantment — Aura
Enchant creature
Enchanted creature has haste.
Whenever Traveling Circus enters the battlefield or you cast a spell, gain control of enchanted creature until end of turn and untap it.
"Who's running away with whom?"

6) Feats of Strength (rare)
Choose a different mode for each of up to three target creatures you control:
• Put a +1/+1 counter on that creature.
• That creature fights target creature you don't control.
• Destroy target artifact or enchantment [with converted mana cost less than or equal to that creature's power].

7) Rosella, Trapeze Artist (mythic rare)
Legendary Creature — [Human] Rogue
Whenever Rosella attacks, exile the top card of your library. You may cast that card.
Whenever you cast a spell, Rosella gets +X/+0 until end of turn, where X is that spell's converted mana cost.
Rosella has flying as long as its power is 5 or greater.

8) Pyramus the Magician (mythic rare)
Legendary Creature — [Human] Rogue
When Pyramus the Magician enters the battlefield, create a 1/1 blue Illusion creature token and draw a card.
Sacrifice an Illusion: You may cast Pyramus the Magician from the battlefield (for its mana cost).
"Of course I'm a magician. Could I do this without magic?"


  1. I'm not telling you anything you don't already know when I say the judging for this round was pretty subjective. Despite the judges' mixed opinions, I feel very good about my submission here.

  2. I'm a little confused by Mark's comments on Acrobatics: "I like the gameplay of rebound, but I'm not quite sure thematically what it's adding to the set. … Does it make sense as a part of circus world? I'm a little more dubious."

    I explained in my intro that rebound supports ringmaster. In addition, rebounding is exactly what performers do when they fall, and setting up a chain of spells to fire off really captures the feel of putting on a show when you actually play with it.

  3. Three out of four of the Unicycles submitted were equipment, and with good reason. A unicycle is small enough to pick up and carry around with ease; and the only thing it has in common with vehicles is a wheel and a seat. I playtested a vehicle version—it was a 2/1 with crew 1—and while that was an interesting haste variant, its aggressive nature didn't feel like a unicycle and didn't contribute to the set's gameplay.

    What I did submit feels like a unicycle because its rider is elevated over a single point, such that only one creature can get in its way at a time. It supports exalted creatures in a big way, and let me tell you, putting a Trained Elephant or whatever on a Unicycle is the kind of hilarious that just feels good.

  4. I wanted rogues and carnival folk to be a significant part of my world, so building upon Jeremy's winning tribal submission from the previous challenge seemed natural. I imagine they caught that and chose not to comment on it?

    1. I was so happy when I saw that in the feedback e-mail.

  5. Tightrope was and remains one of my favorite designs from this submission.

    There are a lot of ways to convey flavor:
    Shivan Dragon does so very literally: You can read the card and imagine the thing, and it is what it does.
    Tightrope does it more metaphorically. That may sound like a weak implementation, but in games, it's actually stronger, because tightrope creates an experience for the player that's like walking a tightrope. Rather than looking like a tightrope, this card feels a tightrope. Literal flavor is better for selling packs initially by appealing to player immediately where metaphorical flavor is better at selling packs later by giving players more fun and unique play experiences that keep them coming back.

    Tightrope is hella fun in play because being up on that highwire gives you a better view (hence the scry), but you're in risk of falling and ruining the act (hence the sacrifice). The scry helps you to avoid falling but there are no guarantees.

    Putting the scry at the end of your turn gives you something to do while your opponent draws and plans their turn, and doesn't slow anyone else down.

  6. I like the flavor of Traveling Circus: Whenever you put on a show (aka cast a spell), you get the attention of the locals and one runs away with you until they realize they've made a horrible mistake. I appreciate that flavor's not quite as tight as some would like.

    In play, this is mostly just a Control Magic where you have to keep up your Ringmastery to enjoy and that works great. Eli's right that this working at instant speed and potentially more than once per round isn't obvious; but those are within the blue-red color pie and not unreasonable at rare.

    Is the final package worth it? No. When you add Melissa's concerns on top of all of the above, it's just not worth it. Lots of great lessons here.

  7. Feats of Strength brings up another flavor disagreement. Aaron and Mark have one interpretation of what feats of strength are and when they see a card that doesn't match their understanding, they reject it. Some of the players with the same interpretation will do the same, but most will do what they do for every Magic card and simply check to see if an essential truth of the subject matter is represented on the card and appreciate that. I disagree that you will only ever see a single performer performing feats of strength, but I'd be fine with a card that only depicted that because it's still showing feats of strength.

    Melissa's criticism is spot on, as usual: "These three modes are narrow by themselves and when you have three creatures in play the upgrade is not very impressive. I think this card has the complexity of a rare but the power level and coolness factor of an uncommon. Rares need to have a good balance between complex and cool, and while I think you're doing better in terms of complexity, I think this card could do something a little more exciting."

    Agreed. Maybe costing this at just {G} would do the trick, but more likely we just need bigger effects.

  8. Aaron: "I like the idea of a trapeze artist that can gain flying, but this package reads more to me like a human cannonball than a trapeze artist. Red, haste, flying, huge power? Cannonball."

    I have to grant that increasing the power and potentially quite a lot makes this feel like a cannonball. If not for that, I'd disagree.

    I do still love the flavor here. Sometimes Rosella has everything under control and can fly through the air gracefully, but when things are desperate, she might make that leap and not catch the bar, sending her plummeting.

    The play's great too.

    Mark says: "Red's flying tends to be restricted to Dragons and Phoenixes, so I'd probably add in white or blue and make this a multicolored card."

    I wonder if that's necessary. Red gets flying very sparingly, and the vast majority of the time it's tiny allotment is spent on dragons and phoenixes, because those don't work without it, but does that necessarily mean red's color pie forbids other creatures to fly? My inclination is that a red flyer like this would simply take the place of one of the set's dragons or phoenixes.

  9. Pyramus is the choice I regret. I somehow managed to forget the lesson Eli shared with Linus in the design test, about casting cards from play. Worse, I spent my splash on a card that stalls the hell out of the game.

    I really love the flavor—an illusionist drawing your attention to a false image and then disappearing and re-appearing while you're distracted is classic.

    But the gameplay's bad. Again, this is me being bad at mythic rare design. I found a unique, powerful, and flavorful effect, but it's the kind that jams up the game rather than accelerates it.

    1. Part of what makes it so hard for me to grok how to design mythics, is that I can't playtest and tweaking them until they're fun like the other rarities, because mythics aren't fun for me. They really hurt Limited play by just winning the game most of the time they're drawn.

  10. Erik and Melissa's overall commentary were helpful, illuminating something I hadn't thought about. Aaron and Mark's comments were frustrating because I painted a thorough and compelling picture of the set in the intro, and most cards supported at least one of those themes. (Rosella wants to be exalted, has peak performance, and helps you maintain peak performance. Pyramus also helps you maintain peak performance. Feats of Strength is slightly better with exalted but mostly stands alone here.)

    In the previous challenge, I saw the judges evaluate the 8 cards in a vacuum, but I failed to appreciate their commitment to that method. I thought if I presented 8 cards that were strong in flavor, that played well, and all supported the set's themes, that an intro selling the set as a cohesive whole would convey the rest. I thought demonstrating that I had a plan not just for 8 cards, but for the whole set would count for something.

    And again, I was caught off guard by the judges' ability to ignore the intro and expect more picture to be painted by just 8 cards. As I'm accustomed to delivering entire games, I'm honestly not sure how to convey an entire set in 8 cards. I thought this was a pretty good attempt, but it clearly was lacking. I wonder how much of that was influenced by half the judges disagreeing on the flavor of every card.

  11. As my set was designed around both Exalted and Rebound, but we were restricted to a single returning mechanic, I had to choose just one to show off. I thought Acrobatics was beautiful, but in retrospect I wish I'd shown Exalted because it had a better mythic than Pyramus:

    Ringmaster Rosella {3}{G}{W}
    Legendary Creature—Human Rogue (mythic rare)
    Whenever an exalted ability triggers on a creature you control, put a +1/+1 counter on that creature.
    Ringmaster Rosella has trample as long as its power is 5 or greater and indestructible as long as its power is 10 or greater.

    1. Here's a weird card:

      Sword Swallowing {2}{G}
      Instant (common)
      Choose one or both:
      • Destroy target artifact or enchantment.
      • Target creature gains indestructible until end of turn.

    2. Contortionist was one my favorite commons:

      Contortionist {2}{U}
      {U}: Contortionist gets +1/-1 until end of turn.
      Peak Performance — Contortionist can’t be blocked as long its power is 5 or greater.

    3. The most controversial card I could have submitted:

      Circus Peanuts {1}{B}
      Sorcery (uncommon)
      Until end of turn, Rogue creatures you control get +1/+1 and non-Rogue creatures your opponents control get -1/-1.
      “We just call them ‘peanuts.’”

    4. And my favorite design that just never fit any angle of attack because crew eats up the allotted mechanic:

      Queenie’s Clown Car {3}
      Legendary Artifact—Vehicle (mythic)
      Crew X (Tap any number of creatures you control with total power X: This Vehicle becomes an X/X artifact creature until end of turn.)