Thursday, May 17, 2018

GDS3 Challenge 1: One Last Job

Jeremy Geist is back today to share his approach to the tribal challenge of the GDS. Click through to read how he prepared for the challenge and how he assembled his eight cards.

(Jeremy's card designs and discussion thread for this challenge can be found here, and the judge feedback for this round can be found here.)

Mark Rosewater e-mailed us before the challenge began that we would be selecting something out of a broad category, and that once we chose it we would be locked out. I made a bunch of top-three lists ahead of time for random categories to make sure I would be ready to go. But as it turned out, creature types was something I did not do ahead of time, meaning I was starting entirely from scratch.

The time pressure here was scary. Theoretically, even if I decided on my creature type late in the day, there were so many creature types I would be able to go with something good. But not knowing when anyone else would turn in their choices and what anyone else would pick made me really nervous, so I quickly jotted down some creature types in a journal, thought about it for an hour or so, then sent in my request for Rogue.

I knew from the start that I wanted to do class-based tribal. The difference between soldiers, wizards, and ninja, for example, is much more deeply ingrained in the public consciousness than the difference between Viashino and Vedalken. There was a much deeper well to draw from, and the cards would be more resonant and make more sense. (Ari Nieh threaded the needle here with Insect tribal; as he mentioned, bug behaviors are pretty common knowledge.)

I also knew that I wanted to avoid the usual tribal strategy of generating a bunch of small tokens and slamming a Lord of Atlantis or what have you to power them up. Mark Rosewater specifically mentioned that he wanted to see tribal approached in a new way, but it was also out of personal challenge.

My short list included GW Knight tribal, which involved making use of Exalted and sending one knight out to battle supported by various squires; RG Shaman tribal, which would involve a band of shamans summoning powerful elementals; and WU Monk tribal, which involved giving all your Monks one specific “fighting style”. In the end, Dominaria used Knight tribal and I would have ended up fighting Jay Treat for Shaman tribal, so everything worked out for the best.

I chose Rogue for multiple reasons. First, of the characteristic Dungeons and Dragons classes, Rogue was the only one without much support in Magic. Clerics and Wizards had archetypes in Onslaught block and Warriors had tribal stuff in Khans of Tarkir block, but Rogues only had a bunch of mediocre prowl cards from Morningtide.

Second, making Rogue tribal meant I could capture the top-down feeling of heist movies, something Magic had surprisingly never really done before. The “different names matter” archetype evolved out of this idea. A band of Rogues working together would be like Ocean’s Eleven or similar, where everyone’s an individualistic scoundrel with their own special talents who begrudgingly work together because they require each other’s special skills.

Card-by-card breakdown:

1. Intelligent Informant

When I was playtesting this, I moved it from a 4-mana 3/2 to a 3-mana 2/2 because I figured it would make players work harder and put in more effort to get the juicy card-draw payoff. Then I was informed by the judges that the original 4-mana version would have been better, because R&D generally wants payoffs at common to be achieved more often than not.

Besides making mythics that are too strong, making cards that have a bunch of hoops to jump through but not much payoff is another design weakness of mine. This is a pretty mild example of that, especially since the card is still quite playable.

2. Backstreet Maneuver

I focused perhaps a little too much on the judging criterion that everything in your set of cards has to synergize. After thinking about the ways you could support having a bunch of differently named Rogues on the field, I decided I wanted this to make a token instead of doing something more Roguey. Alternatively, if I had stuck with my original title of “Two-Person Scam” it might have made more sense.

3. Hulking Henchman

One of the other things I wanted to do with this assignment was “selfish tribal” – that is, rather than give bonuses to other Rogues, your Rogues made themselves better the more you gave them partners to shore up their weaknesses. Hulking Henchman is a good example of this. He doesn’t make your other creatures better, but other creatures make him better.

4. Clever Disguise

The “nonlegendary” rider that confused MaRo was put in because I realized that players might be confused if you have two identical legendary creatures but one of them has the Disguise on – the legend rule wouldn’t kick in because they technically have different names.

This was originally an Equipment, but I switched it to an Aura pretty late in the weekend after balancing its mana/equip costs for its effect proved to be too difficult. More on this at Diamond Falcon.

5. Impersonate

Impersonate is a top-down version of one of the classic heist tropes: Knocking out a security guard and stealing their clothes. I knew this was a winner when one of my playtesters cast this on a Burning Sun's Avatar and said that his Rogue had put on one of those inflatable T-Rex suits.

This is the sort of card I mean when I talk about impact. Impersonate is a card that’s splashy and that creates a story when you cast it. Like Mindslaver effects, I’m not sure if this would be fun at a competitive level, but I priced it cheaply because rare removal needs to be aimed toward Standard, and I couldn’t put it at a lower rarity because of the copy effect.

6. The Crow and Squirrel

Whoever wrote this assignment was really cruel when they specified that the file had to include a land that mechanically cares about your tribe. Here’s a list of all the lands that care mechanically about creature types:

  • Daru Encampment
  • Ally Encampment
  • The Murmuring Bosk cycle from Lorwyn block

Compounding the difficulty is that the card with the exact right name and effect, Rogue's Passage, already existed.

I’m about as happy with this card as I could be, given the constraints. Alexis Janson got the top-down feel I was aiming for and the rest of the judges seemed at least okay with it.

7. Merciless Mastermind

The mythic creature slot for Rogues has to be the ringleader of the band, and with this one I wanted to capture the flavor of an evil genius who disposes of pawns who have outlived their usefulness. I also was trying to aim for it to be the “ultimate rogue” – impossible to block and with the most powerful loot effect I could think of. That said, it still came out feeling a little unfinished and I should have thought harder about it.

I made the creature races in this submission various things I thought would appear in a more urbanized plane, where Rogue tribal makes the most sense. I made Merciless Mastermind a rat person specifically because I find humans a bit boring and I try not to use them when I can.

8. Diamond Falcon

After I turned in my file, I thought for sure I was getting eliminated. I thought the judges wouldn’t buy my “different names matter” archetype and that my cards were sloppy. But the core of my concerns was Diamond Falcon, a card I finished at 11:55 PM on Sunday.

(It turns out I won the challenge, so now I’m mad I ruined my own birthday by being so consumed with worry.)

On Sunday afternoon, I decided to switch my artifact and enchantment slots because I felt Clever Disguise was more easily costed as an Aura. That left me with a mythic artifact to come up with.

My first thought was a locked vault that, when you opened it, gave you an extra turn. To open it, you had to remove counters from permanents your opponents controlled. But writing this out made it way too long to fit on a card and the gameplay was fiddly. As I ran scarily close to the deadline, I came up with Diamond Falcon, a top-down MacGuffin. I wasn’t able to refine it as much as I’d liked, and what I turned in was probably way above rate. But the judges cared more about the core idea of it than the lack of polish, which was a huge relief for me.


  1. Absolutely love the thematic take you took to the tribe. Your thoughts on the cultural cachet and resonance of classes is very insightful, I hadn't considered that at all!

    I also find it interesting you started brainstorming before the challenge. What other stuff did you come up with? I wonder if anyone else did the same.

    I think you did a great job avoiding usual tribal strategies. It helped you push towards innovative design in many ways, while also differentiating you from other competitors, and helping you avoid the pitfalls of other takes on tribal. There were great risks in this approach, but it worked out great!

    It's so great to hear you think so openly about your weaknesses. That's a big part of a great designer.

    I got The Crow and Squirrel quickly. I think it was a nice take on a tribal land. I agree, that's the trickiest constraint of this challenge, besides perhaps the mythics.

    Diamond Falcon was a very flavorful design but definitely tricky. I think overcosting it was a smart move, given the casual appeal of donating and the design overall.

    1. I didn't have any actual cards brainstormed, it's pretty much what I described up there.

  2. There's definitely a few more lands that care about creature types. (I'm thinking of Elephant Graveyard, Wirewood Lodge, Riptide Laboratory, and I'm sure there's more)

    Really strong submission though, but I'm sure you've heard that a ton at this point. :)

    1. Some more: Goblin Burrows, Griffin Canyon, Starlit Sanctum, Swarmyard, Unholy Grotto, Tomb of Urami and the pretty recent Haven of the Spirit Dragon.

    2. Wow, I missed a lot actually. That's embarrassing.

  3. Really strong designs for your mechanical identity. I think the variety of ways you make it matter is interesting.

    I would say one thing that really bugs me is, I don't feel like building a team like this feels that rogue-like! Comparing some other general identity, for example, "being hard to block", feels like something a rogue does. I know you were trying to capture a specific trope space, and I think it would have worked had it just been a single card referencing the specific trope of getting a heist gang together, so maybe it works. just when I think "rogue" I don't think "he wants to a variety of teammates".

    Other thing is while you do some cool things to make the names matter, I'm not sure how many the average player playing might get. Something like the clones and copying obviously supports this mechanic, but is someone just playing going to realize that? An upside is that it creatures moments of revelation when they do, and maybe i'm just underestimating people.

    I think the general different names matter is a very fertile space for design. The way it colors deck building and card evaluation is extremely novel. It increases variety in gameplay as well, and there's perhaps some potential for interesting ways to manipulate the as-fan with collation technology. I also think if it were a more general mechanic it'd be easier to use, but perhaps without a narrowed band of usage (such as "rogues"), it's too easy to use?

    1. Re: your third paragraph, I admit that's an issue for Backstreet Maneuver but I think Impersonate is fine because the effect is splashy enough that players who don't get it gives you +1 name will still put it in their decks.

      It's okay if someone doesn't understand all the ways to get small edges from a card when they first see it, as long as they recognize a way they can use it; that's lenticular design.

    2. Like I said, it could probably create fun situations when it comes up is upside of it being a little bit of a roundabout way to support different names matters I can vividly imagine a situation in my mind where someone is playing the names matter rogue deck, cast impersonate, then they realize they turned on an ability and go "Holy cow, that's awesome!", pure gravy upside on a card that's strong and fun to play on its own. I feel like that kind of situation is less likely to happen with token stuff though.

    3. Re: your first point, this challenge was cards that cared about a particular creature type, so I think we really had to answer the question, "How do _____ work together?"

  4. Oh, interesting.

    I loved the heist theme, I wasn't sure how well differently-named would work, but it seems it worked well!

    Yeah, I loved Impersonation. I liked Clever Disguise too, I wasn't quite sure how I would have templated the name change, but I thought "have a name change to increase the number of differently named rogues" and "avoid legendary creatures when changing names" were pretty obvious, I'm not sure why the judges hesitated over them.

    (Aggravatingly, it would probably be better as making the creature a rogue than requiring a rogue, but the terms of the challenge torpedoed a lot of decisions like that.)

    I think both the land and the legendary artifact fell into "great idea, but could do with more iteration" but the judges seemed to mostly accord with that assessment, and that seems ok if the submission is overall strong.

  5. I don't like the combination of caring about Rogues with different names and Rogue tokens. I think it would lead to player confusion for people not up on the details of token names.

  6. Jeremy,
    I'm coming here to comment on your thread because your submission was really the one I preferred.
    My favorite part was the "different names matter" that you tried to capture in your designs.
    If pushed for Constructed, it could potentially change the way people think about their deckbuilding, and carefully think about the number of cards rather than "auto-include 4-of the strongest cards".
    I think Clever Disguise made sense a an aura and filled that theme, and Impersonate was really smart too, not to mention a great top-down design.
    I agree the Land thing was hard - especially considering the Rogue's Passage issue you mentioned - but maybe tipping into the "vault" or "secret base" trope a bit more might have been really resonant?

    Wishing you luck for the next challenges!