Thursday, March 15, 2018

GDS3: Ranking the Contestants' Design Tests

I spent the last couple of days going through each of the Top 8's design tests, offering brief critique and grading them. The metric I used was as follows:

  • Each card started at 1 point, and could have a final grade of 0-2 points.
  • Each card gained a point if after reading it, I thought to myself, "hey, that's awesome"
    • Cards accomplished this by doing things we haven't seen before, scaled appropriately to their rarity
    • Chinese menu gold cards typically did not do this, even if the particular combination of their abilities hadn't necessarily been done before.
  • Each card lost a point if it had design issues beyond basic templating mistakes, and lost two points for egregious design issues.
    • This included things like unnecessary text, secretly being a monocolor card, color pie violations, misapplying rarity, needless complexity, etc.

The grading was harsh, and by virtue of there being 80 cards to go through, my feedback may have been more terse than I would usually prefer. I was very impressed with each of the submissions, and the preliminary tests of the GDS did their jobs and really found a great crop of eight designers. It's been a month and I still haven't finished my ten cards. These designers produced some top notch work in a matter of days.

I've provided my grade for each of the top 8's tests below, ranked lowest score first, as well as general comments on their submission. For my individual card notes, follow the link to their test page and check the comments section.

8. Chris Mooney

8 Points

There were a lot of seeds of good ideas in Chris's designs, but some major flaws in the execution. A lot of his cards had significant design problems, and many could have mined the same mechanical ground with much simpler execution.

7. Jeremy Geist 

9 Points

Jeremy was a bit inconsistent, with some great designs, and some clearly designed to fill the test's holes, designs which would make no sense in a vacuum. There was a little bit of overdesigning in his submission, which a round of playtesting and editing would have cleaned up.

6. Ryan Siegel-Stechler 

11 points

R_Stech had a good batch of cards, but a few major whiffs as well. There were a couple of cards where he tried too hard to show off (which, to be fair, this test wants you to do), and the designs suffered as a result.

5. Jay Treat 

12 points

Jay had a solid mix of cards. A few weren't showing off his creativeness enough, a few pushed too hard the other way, and a few, like his Pacifist Azorius Planeswalker, hit that sweet spot in the middle.

3. Linus Ulysses Hamilton (Tie)

13 Points

Linus provided a fantastic submission, marred by a few significant design missteps. His big hits were Alva, Mirror Trick, and Red Rover, which were interestingly all white cards. His attempts to be innovative on the PW designs fell a little flat, but overall a very strong batch of cards.

3. Alex Werner (Tie)

13 points

If I was docking points for templating alone, Alex would have scored much lower, as many of his cards do interesting things that should be straightforward in a roundabout way. His submission shined when he stuck to simplicity, like with Evolution from Below, Astral Containment, and Requiem for the Profane.

2. Ari Nieh

14 points

Ari managed to demonstrate a wide range of relatively unexplored design space while keeping most of his cards elegant and clean. That was no small feat. Mugai Creation Saga is easily my favorite card to come out of all the designs.

1. Scott Wilson

15 points

I love most of Scott's submissions. He was the only contestant to nail both Planeswalker designs, and his submissions overall were clean, intriguing, and maddening in their originality. In addition to scoring highest in my reviews, he was also the contestant whose self-rankings of cards I most closely agreed with.


  1. I enjoyed your comments. I tried my hand at the challenge as well:

    * White-blue – Instant (c)
    Dangerous Recon 2WU
    Instant (U)
    Look at one to four cards from the top of your library and put one of them into your hand. Put the rest on the bottom of your library. For each card you choose not to look at, create a 1/1 white soldier token.

    * Blue-black – Sorcery
    Forced Confession 1UB
    Sorcery (C)
    Name a card. Target player reveals their hand and discards the named card. If they can't, they discard two cards instead.

    * Black-red – Instant
    Bunt RB
    Instant (C)
    Target player sacrifices a tapped nonland permanent.

    * Red-green – Enchantment
    Unsustainable Growth RG
    Enchantment - Aura (U)
    Enchant Land
    Enchanted Land has "T: Add two mana of any color."
    Sacrifice Unsustainable Growth: Add a mana of any color

    * Green-white –Sorcery
    Divine Tutor 3GW
    Sorcery (R)
    Search your library for an Aura card that could enchant target creature and put it onto the battlefield attached to that creature, then shuffle your library.

    * White-black – Enchantment
    Spiritual Devolution 1WB
    Enchantment (R)
    Whenever a nontoken creature you control dies, return a creature card with a lesser converted mana cost from your graveyard to your hand. If you can't, create a 0/1 black slug token.

    * Blue-red – Creature
    Duplicitous Royal 2(UR)(UR)
    Creature - Human Rogue (C)
    Duplicitous Royal deals combat damage to players and planeswalkers equal to its toughness instead of its power.

    * Black-green – Creature

    Lord of the Flies XBG
    Legendary Creature - God (M)
    When Lord of the Flies enters the battlefield, create X 1/1 black insect tokens with flying and deathtouch.
    Sacrifice an insect: Put a +1/+1 counter on Lord of the Flies and it gains indestructible until end of turn.

    * Red-white – Planeswalker

    Dorfus the Reckless 2RW
    Planeswalkers - Dorfus (M)
    +2: Activate another of Dorfus's abilities at random.
    -1: Create Dalant, a legendary 3/3 Red and White hound creature token with vigilance and haste.
    -2: Deal 2 damage to any target, you gain 2 life.
    -3: Discard your hand and draw three cards.

    * Green-blue – Planeswalker
    Manayana, the Seer 3UUG
    Planeswalker- Manayana (M)
    +1: Prevent all combat damage that would be dealt to Manayana until your next turn
    -2: Create an emblem with "You may look and play the top X cards of your library, where X is the number of emblems you control"
    -6: You may play any number of lands until the end of turn

    1. Dangerous Recon - A card for the mel/spike in all of us. I wonder how well the timing/templating would work out.

      Forced Confession: That might be strong for a common. It might need to specify nonland, but at 3 mana, it might not. Cool mind game either way.

      Bunt: It can technically hit enchantments, but not really, since they don't typically tap. Clever. Also, it's a choice sacrifice, so it's not gunning for enchantment at any time. Very interesting.

    2. Unsustainable growth: RIP "to your mana pool". That's a card I would want to test for power level reasons. It's not especially fast, and only nets you one mana until you sacrifice it. It's a very elegant design. I'm a fan.

      Divine Tutor: There are a small handful of W creatures that do this for themselves on ETB. I'm not convinced this needs to be a Selesnya card, but I am surprised this card doesn't already exist in mono-W.

    3. Divine Tutor (Riffing) XXGW
      Search your library for a creature with converted mana cost X or less and an aura with converted mana cost X or less. Put the creature onto the battlefield, then put the aura onto the battlefield attached to that creature. Shuffle.

    4. Spiritual Devolution: Undercosted, but the perfect amount of awesome.

      Duplicitous Royal: At uncommon I buy it, although that's an ability we've seen firmly in green. I would suspect that it would be a "when ~ becomes blocked, switch its p/t ueot." That still wouldn't be a common because layers, I supose. When ~ becomes blocked, it gets -2/+2 ueot.

    5. Lord of the Flies: Other than being legendary and a god, that's a great design. It doesn't exactly feel divine the same way that our existing god models do though. It would need quite a bit more oomph.

      Dorfus is hilarious, and probably needs a templating makeover. What happens if it tries to randomly activate -2 and only has 1 loyalty (shock in response to the activation?)

    6. Manayana: The final doesn't really do much with the rest of the abilities, the first one seems too frustrating. The middle is where this card wants to focus. An emblem lord is interesting space to riff on.

      So, all told, how would you list your cards in accordance with the challenge? Which of the ten was your best design? Which was your worst?

    7. 1 RW
      2 UB
      3 BW
      4 UW
      5 GB
      6 UR
      7 RG
      8 RB
      9 GW
      10 UG


  2. The numbers I got, ordered roughly by how I'd break ties:
    Chris - 9
    Alex - 10
    Ryan - 10
    Linus - 10
    Jeremy - 11
    Jay - 11
    Ari - 13
    Scott - 13